Borrego Sun - Since 1949

Rebecca Falk 

Viewpoint: Thoughts on the Proposed Watermaster Board


Last updated 1/23/2020 at 1:46pm

The proposed Stipulation Judgment and associated documents will be our water plan (Plan) to make our water use sustainable by 2040 in accordance with state law.

In general, carrying out the Plan for our water use will be managed by a Watermaster Board, although unresolved disputed matters can be appealed to the Court that will have authority to enforce the Plan and oversee its being carried out. The Stipulation documents describe a Watermaster Board that is composed of only five people, three of whom come from outside the basin. Two fifths of its votes are assigned to those who pump the most water now. They represent individuals or corporations whose investors are based elsewhere.

The Stipulation Judgment that determines how water will be managed in our valley far into the future, was negotiated by lawyers representing these interests, and also the interests of BWD, which represented itself and its ratepayers, and will also have one out of the five votes. These three members will serve on the Watermaster Board as of February of 2020.

Another vote is reserved for the County but it is unclear if the County will choose to participate. If it does participate, it may be with a staff member or a political appointee, and that person won’t be a Watermaster Board Member until July or so. Finally, there is one vote for a Community Watermaster Board Member, who we are told will be appointed in or before June of 2020.

The carrot in the Stipulation Judgment that brought the farmers to the negotiating table is that with the Plan they will have a marketable water asset, so that if their farms are no longer viable, they have a way to leave with substantial funds anyway. The Stipulation Judgment makes permanent the unchallengeable right to pump the assigned Baseline Pumping Allocations to the parties who negotiated it, now subject to rampdowns (reductions according to a schedule) and a total amount of water that can be pumped valley-wide by 2040 (although this amount likely will be challenged every five years of the reduction period and could be revised).

It also determines that all Baseline Pumping Allocations are of equal priority, thereby giving up a potential for municipal water rights to be recognized as of higher priority than other water rights.

Whether this Plan works out over time to the benefit of the community or to its detriment is something we can’t know at this point, although it does provide a path to meet the goal of sustainable water use by 2040. But citizens will need to keep an eye on the Watermaster Board. The rules are that it will meet publicly. The Stipulation Judgment provides for a minimum of quarterly meetings.

How much will happen in the public view? There are regular meetings with 72 hours notice for agendas and Special meetings with 24 hours notice, and also the possibility of an Adjournment to a new location and time for a meeting with the notice put on the door of the meeting place within 24 hours of the Adjournment decision (all according to the published Stipulation documents). The Technical Advisory Committee that will be appointed by the Watermaster Board can meet by phone but still as a public meeting, publicly noticed. The Watermaster Technical Consultant, once appointed, may also be the Watermaster Board’s Executive Director, and that person will track allocations, water use and trading, and issue reports that will be available to the public by request.

Full article in the Dec. 26 issue of the Borrego Sun.

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