Viewpoint: A Good Framework for Sustainability
Last updated 1/23/2020 at 1:25pm
The recently circulated draft Stipulated Judgment and its accompanying Groundwater Management Plan (called the “physical solution”), have passed their first major milestone, a 30-day public comment period.
A lot has happened since the USGS published its hydrogeology report in 2015 on Borrego Valley’s groundwater/aquifer situation. We started off with the SGMA designation of our aquifer as being in a state of “critical over-draft”; now we have a “Stip-GMP” that is the first in California to be submitted for approval by both the State Department of Water Resources and the Courts, using the only legally recognized “alternative” submission to the SIGMA/GSP-GSA mechanism. The Stip-GMP has been agreed upon by the vast majority of all pumpers in our Sub-basin.
The GMP represents over three years of hard work by the GSP Advisory Committee, County of SD, BWD Managers/Board Members, technical Consultants, and Legal Counsel to set the general framework for SGMA compliance and implementation. The GSP was fundamentally retained intact when it was transformed into the GMP used in the Stip-GMP.
For the programs and policies set forth in the GMP, there are knowns and unknowns. The Stipulated Judgment has made the bold attempt to reconcile many competing interests and sticking points regarding water rights into a contractual agreement, beginning with getting a firm handle on how much water is actually being pumped from our aquifer. BWD and the major pumpers (those extracting more than two acre-feet per year) in all three sectors of our economy wrestled for 10 months as to how we could reduce overall groundwater extraction by about 76%.
The major known benefits of the Stip-GMP mechanism include: Implementation of accelerated pumping reductions in October 2020; installations of meters by March 2020; Virtual elimination of protracted and expensive litigation costs to BWD.
Due to the method used to calculate BWD’s starting pumping allowance and conservation measures taken by Borrego residents in the past, BWD will get some breathing room and not have to begin acquiring water to meet Customer demands until the year 2032 (est.), 12 years away, although acquisition will likely occur before then based on availability of outside funding sources such as State and Federal Grants. Potential rate impacts have also been calculated: If no outside funding was found, the impact would be an estimated $8 - $14/mo per home using 14 units of water.
Conversely, unknown impacts and mitigation measures years or even decades away for hydro-geological, environmental and socio-economic concerns are pretty much informed guesswork at this time, based on existing data and info. A Technical Advisory Committee and Environmental Working Group will advise the WaterMaster on these issues. BWD has commissioned work on identifying the potential Socioeconomic impacts and will continue to work with other groups/organizations in the Basin on workforce transition issues.
The administrative mechanism to set up the whole process, the Water Master, is comprised of a five-member board of stakeholders and includes The County (tentatively), BWD, Community, Recreation, and Farming representatives, all overseen by a Superior Court judge.
Simply put, the Stip-GMP provides the most comprehensive solution by creating water rights without adversarial adjudication for Basin pumpers, including BWD ratepayers. Arguments about process deficiencies and speculation on perceived impacts were received prior to the closing of the public comment period. Many of these concerns can be addressed during further negotiations of the Pumpers and after start-up and beyond, based on objectively derived information to serve the best interests of our Community. It’s not perfect, but what is?
The Stip-GMP mechanism seems to be the most reasonable and timely means currently available to settle groundwater-related disputes while on the road to sustainability, and we need to start the 20-year journey as soon as possible.