"Chinatown" Comes to Borrego
Last updated 9/15/2020 at 9:04am
The Regional Conveyance System Plan: Over the last year, the San Diego County Water Authority (CWA) has spent approximately $2 million to study the feasibility of building a Regional Conveyance System (RCS) that would transport water from the Colorado River to San Diego (Figure 1). The Phase A report, published June 2020, recommended eliminating the alternative route near the Mexican border (Southern Alignment 5C) and identified the Northern Alignment (3A) as the preferred route (Figure 1). This route would consist of 46 miles of canal, 39 miles of pipeline, and 46 miles of tunnel that would pass through and under the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and the community of Borrego Springs. Cost estimates for this project are $5 – 6 Billion, and the construction is estimated to take 15 years.
If you have never seen the 1974 movie Chinatown about the toxic mix of money, influence, politics, and water in California, now would be a good time to take a look.
The preferred Northern Alignment (3A) route passes through the State Park, through the community of Borrego Springs, up Tubb Canyon Road, to a “tunnel portal” in Tubb Canyon. From the Tubb Canyon Portal a tunnel 14 feet in diameter would travel 46 miles under the Pinyon Ridge Wilderness area to the CWA’s Twin Oak facility near Escondido. A massive pumping station would be constructed in the vicinity of Tubb and Glorietta Canyons (Figures 2 and 3).
Proponents of this project, including CWA Chairman, Jim MaDaffer, had told the 24 Member Water Agencies that compose the CWA board that Borrego Springs “enthusiastically supports this plan and sees it as the solution to their water problems.” This “selling point” was offered to the CWA board despite the fact there has been no
public discussion of the project in the Borrego community.
BWD Board Meeting, August 11, 2020
On Aug. 6, 2020, the Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy requested the Borrego Water District (BWD) include a discussion of the RCS at its August 11, 2020 board meeting and issue a letter to the CWA clarifying BWD’s position on the project. During the public comment portion of the Aug. 11 board meeting, the proponents of the project tried to change the subject from the misrepresentations made about Borrego in the halls of power in San Diego to a discussion of the study and the project. Among the project’s proponents speaking at the August 11 BWD board meeting were Jack McGrory, owner of the Casa del Zorro and 1,500 acres of land in the Borrego Valley, and representatives from Rams Hill.
Following the Aug. 11 BWD board meeting, President Kathy Dice issued a letter to the CWA stating the BWD has insufficient information as to the impacts of the project on the ratepayers of Borrego Springs to be either an enthusiastic supporter or an opponent of the plan. Dice did mention in her letter that if the CWA were to consider storing water in the Borrego aquifer there are a number of critical concerns. The first being that the water from the Borrego aquifer is pure and potable without treatment, whereas water from the Colorado River is contaminated with toxins that may not be removed with existing technology. Second, any attempt to inject and remove water from the Borrego aquifer poses unknown, unquantified risks to the structural integrity of our aquifer.
CWA Board Meeting, August 27, 2020
On Aug. 27, 2020, the board of the CWA met to determine if they would spend an additional $1.3 million dollars on the next phase of their RCS study. This Phase B study would hone the details of the preferred route through/under the State Park and Borrego Springs.
In a highly unusual move prior to any discussion of the issue, Chairman Madaffer made a motion that the study be funded immediately. Public comment ensued in which eight of the nine speakers opposed the project on the grounds that 1) Borrego’s stance on this project has been misrepresented to the CWA board, 2) the environmental constraints create “fatal flaws” that will prevent this project from traversing the State Park as they did the Sunrise Powerlink 3) the project provides no new water for San Diego, but simply creates a different pipe by which to obtain the water that already flows to San Diego, 4) the project will saddle the next three generations of San Diego ratepayers with exorbitant and unnecessary debt, 5) the proposed route would cross six active fault lines, 6) sending water over the proposed route would take 40% more energy than the conveyance system currently in use, 7) the increased energy use would increase San Diego’s greenhouse gas emissions, 8) the proposed route impinges upon the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, the Cleveland National Forest, the community of Borrego Springs, and 9) the proposed route potentially impacts groundwater resources near the San Pasqual Indian Reservation.
The one public speaker offering support of the Chairman’s motion was the Chairman’s friend, Jack McGrory, whom Madaffer’s staff repeatedly referred to as representing Borrego.
After two hours of discussion, including testimony from nearly all 35 members of the CWA Board, it was clear there was not a majority in favor of authorizing an additional $1.3 million to continue the study. The CWA board voted to postpone the vote on the Phase B study until November 2020 and approved a proposal put forth by their executive director to authorize $200K for CWA to “reach out” in this interim period to the organizations and private individuals who had voiced concerns about spending the money to proceed with the Phase B study.
CWA consultants and staff now have 90 days to “reach out” to project opponents. The timing and format of this effort have not been made public at this time. However, it seems likely the Community of Borrego Springs and the staff at the State Park are finally going to be consulted regarding this large, and to some, questionable, industrial-scale project.
Details of project are available on the SDCWA website (https://www.sdcwa.org), including a summary of the Phase A study, as well as an independent report, funded by a majority of the water managers on the CWA board that calls into question several of the assumptions contained in the Phase A report