GMP To Be Released


Last updated 1/23/2020 at 1:22pm

A draft “Stipulated Judgment” 10 months in the making, with an attached Groundwater Management Plan (GMP) that replaces the GSP, will soon be released for a 30-day public review and comment period before being finalized by the Borrego Water District and other Basin Pumpers. The Stipulation and GMP were not released to the public before the Sun print deadline, so the following article is a summary of topics covered, provided during an extended interview by BWD’s General Manager Geoff Poole.

The combined Stipulated Judgment and GMP, says Poole, are allowed by the controlling SGMA legislation as an “alternative” to a GSP, and they provide community and court oversight of basin groundwater management.

Together, if approved by BWD and other pumpers, these official court documents will guide Borrego’s water future, culminating in a nearly 75% reduction in aquifer extraction by the year 2040, reducing pumping to the “sustainable yield,” currently estimated at 5,700 acre-feet per year (af/y). This amount could be modified upward or downward during the implementation phase.

Below are additional highlights based on the interview, including quotes contributed from parties directly involved in Stipulation negotiations. The contributors assume the Stipulation will be finalized soon, and that final negotiations are likely not to alter the general nature of the documents nor their comments. However, changes may occur, so this article is presented as essentially FYI for our readers, subject to the content of the documents formally released by BWD and other pumpers.

We have reached an agreement across the Valley on a solution to Borrego’s biggest challenge – water. This issue has haunted the Valley for decades. This agreement will guide the future economic development of Borrego and protect its most important asset, the State park.

~ Jack McGrory, Principal Owner of La Casa del Zorro and co-owner of RoadRunner Farms

One might say that the stipulation stands on the shoulders of the GSP. We used the GSP to guide the major discussion items for the stipulation, and we agreed on further details. ~ Shannon Smith, CEO Rams Hill Golf Club.

The Stipulation/GMP will provide clarity for the farmers, facilitating long-term planning, guiding infrastructure investment decisions, crop rotations, career planning / succession planning, etc. It will also provide exit mechanisms for transitioning farms into other uses for those that decide to leave agriculture. ~ Mike Seley, Managing Director for Seley Farms

A “rampdown” of ever-decreasing groundwater extraction by Basin pumpers is proposed begin on Oct. 1, 2020. Unlike the GSP, each major pumper (Ag, BWD, Golf Courses pumping over two af/y) must begin reducing groundwater extraction according to their Baseline Pumping Allowance (BPA) by 5% per year for up to the first 10 years. Pumpers are committing to 5% each year in years one thru five, and the exact amount for years six thru 10 will be determined by an evaluation of Basin hydraulics by the WaterMaster and Technical Advisory Committee.

The stipulation begins the reduction in pumping starting in 2020, which is sooner than the GSP. It also provides for a 50% reduction in pumping by 2030. The stipulation lowers the risk of legal costs by determining water rights, something that SGMA and the GSP cannot accomplish. ~ Shannon Smith, CEO Rams Hill Golf Club.

The Proposed Draft Stipulated Judgment will require all pumpers using more than two-acre feet per year (651,702 gal) to have meters installed by March 21, 2020; telemetry-fitted meters will permit direct information/data access by the WaterMaster. In addition, GSP-imposed water quality monitoring will continue unless and until the program is modified by the WaterMaster.

Poole states that Pumpers will be permitted to pump up to 120% of their BPA in years one to three to allow for a ‘soft landing’, provided that they underpump or purchase/lease water in years four and five to make up for their overpumping in the first three years. Over- and under-pumping can therefore be compensated for with direct pumping adjustments and/or the sale-purchase of water credits to balance out pumping allowances. After the three-year leniency period, all overpumping will be subject to an administrative penalty of at least $500 per acre-foot, as set by the WaterMaster.

If pumpers underpump in any given year, they will be allowed to carry over the difference, but it must be the first water used in the following water year.

It is essential to the rec sector that we can carryover conserved water for later use, when the rampdown is higher. This allows golf courses to invest in conservation and costly improvements earlier on and protect the jobs that support our fragile local economy. ~ Shannon Smith, CEO Rams Hill Golf Club.

The time period between March 21 to Oct. 1, 2020 will allow for ongoing metering and monitoring while judicial and State Department of Water Resources review of the Stipulated Judgment/GMP protocols and procedures are underway. This 6-month interlude also provides set-up time for the WaterMaster and a Technical Advisory Committee.

The proposed WaterMaster will consist of a five-member Board overseen by a Superior Court judge who will rule on disputed WaterMaster decisions; judicial rulings are final and not subject to CEQA requirements for environmental review or assessment. A Technical Advisory Committee, consisting of professional hydrogeologists, engineers, and others will provide science-based guidance to the WaterMaster. Project management decisions and specific action items approved by the WaterMaster during the implementation phase would therefore be streamlined.

Full article in the Nov. 14 issue of the Borrego Sun.