Borrego Water District Q & A:
Last updated 10/23/2020 at 9:26am
Tammy Baker, Bruce Burgener and Diane Johnson, who are running for two seats on the Borrego Water District Board of Directors answered four questions in regards of the Regional Conveyance System, water reductions/GMP, as well as the biggest challenges for BWD. Below are their responses:
*Note: RCS overview – In August 2020, the San Diego County Water Authority (CWA) released the Phase A report detailing a proposed project where a new regional conveyance system (RCS) – to transport water supplies from the Colorado River to western San Diego County was summarized. The preferred route, for the pipeline and a long tunnel going through the mountains to the west, goes through portions of the Park and the Tubb Canyon area of Borrego Springs. https://www.sdcwa.org/sites/default/files/RCS-Executive%20Summary%20Final%20August%202020.pdf.
Q.1: What do you think of the idea of (someday) buying and storing Colorado River water for use here, if the Regional Conveyance System runs through Borrego Valley?
Tammy Baker: I am open to the possibility of importing water as long as it does not put a financial burden on our residents and businesses, and it does not harm our land or our park. It would be a godsend if there was plentiful, clean, and affordable Colorado River water for our use, however, the hurtless to overcome are daunting. Colorado River water is unfit to drink so a water treatment plant must be built which will generate tons of waste that must be dumped somewhere. The pipeline and large pumping station must be built and the source of the water, the San Diego County Water Authority, expects Borregans to pay. Also, there may be environmental and technical challenges that cannot be solved, such as safely running an underground pipeline across multiple fault lines.
Bruce Burgener: The “study” to bring Colorado River water to Borrego Valley is a work in progress. We would like to be 100% self-sufficient with our water management. Under present conditions that is not possible in the long-term. Thus, the need that we all tighten our belts in our water use. Our aquifer has the capacity of about 700,000 acre-feet of water. In an average year, we have about 1.8 billion gallons of water enter our water supply. This sounds great, BUT we use about 6.4 billion gallons. This deficit has brought the amount of water stored in our aquifer down to about 400,000 acre-feet. If we cannot fix this ourselves, we must import more water. Questions to think about: do we want Colorado River water in our aquifer, do we want to be a supplier of water outside Borrego Valley, the costs involved, (both financial and environmental), and the time involved to get it operational? Benefits: it would address what we see as our current water use issue, and there would be a lot of outside money to help it come to fruition.
Diane Johnson: We as a community need to know a lot more about this project. Pipelines carry enormous environmental as well as economic costs; a 46-mile long tunnel deep under mountains and through 8 fault zones sounds very concerning; and the notion of storing non-drinkable-until-we-pay-to-treat-it water in our aquifer – and possibly damaging it– is not appealing.
Q.2: Some people say water reductions are not needed because the state will bail us out, do you think this is possible?
Tammy Baker: The state will not bail us out. On the contrary the state passed the SGMA (Sustainable Groundwater Management Act) that says we must live within our means and that we can use only water that is naturally replenished. The state is not bailing out others, such as the residents living near the depleted Salton Sea and who are suffering from serious chronic respiratory problems.
Bruce Burgener: My simple answer is in the last sentence: I think the state is trying to help us now. BUT, we must we willing to help ourselves. There is no guarantee that the Regional Conveyance System will be approved or completed in a reasonable amount of time. Many people and agencies throughout the region have come up with exploring this idea. The “study” is to look at all aspects of the proposal. The engineering is completed, and the concept is workable. Now, I believe there will be a hard look into the costs and potential environmental issues. So NO, I do not feel we can ignore our deficit water use and rely on the state to bail us out in a reasonable amount of time.
Diane Johnson: No. California as a whole has tremendous and diverse water problems, and it’s unlikely that the State will be able to come up with funds to solve all of them. Several studies have been done, over the years, on possible ways to bring outside water into Borrego Springs. Besides the obvious huge cost of a pipeline from any direction, there is the additional, high cost of treating that water (which would mean building and operating a treatment facility here) to make it suitable for human use.
Q.3: What do you see as the biggest challenges for BWD in the next year or two?
Tammy Baker: Communication! BWD needs to help everyone understand what is going on with the legal proceedings and the WaterMaster’s role here. Also to create the funding and plan to replace our aging pipes, pumps and tanks.
Bruce Burgener: I feel we must define what is the backbone of Borrego Springs, who we are as residents and what we want for our community. This will help determine our priorities for water use. Are we families with children in school, local business owners, folks with second homes, service oriented, farmers, retirees? Managing our water use, and replacing our old pipelines and storage tanks I see as priorities. Managing includes planning for the future. I love our local grapefruit, but in our present climate, if agriculture is to remain in Borrego, it needs to be low water use. Many of us year rounders already try to be good shepherds with our utilities. It may be difficult to tighten our use even more, but we all need to do whatever we can to help balance our water budget.
Diane Johnson: We must balance the need for more funds to maintain and replace our pipes-and-pump infrastructure, with the need to keep water affordable for our users. And this at the same time as we begin paying to pump water (like all the other major pumpers in the Valley, such as agricultural and golf interests)!
Q.4: Assuming we dramatically reduce water usage over the next 10 years as mandated in our Groundwater Management Plan (GMP), what do you think Borrego might look like?
Tammy Baker: Ten years from now, Borrego has grown some, but not a lot. Rams Hill wins the Golf Magazine award for most stunning conversion to a desertscape course. Seeing a water fountain no longer creates the feeling of abundance but one of sadness for its wastefulness. With a few exceptions (such as the high school football field) grass lawns are gone.
Bruce Burgener: My father lived here in the 1960s. At that time, he and his friends felt that water would never be a problem. They did wonder if our Borrego would ever grow significantly and become more like Palm Springs. In managing our aquifer, and being surrounded by our wonderful parkland, I feel the likelihood of that happening is minimal. I feel that people who live here, who have chosen to have second homes here, and those who vacation here, come for that very reason. If we wanted something different, we would go somewhere else. We are a quiet, peaceful, dark sky community. We manage our aquifer to help insure our future. Ten years from now, we may have fewer golf courses, we may not have agriculture as we know it now, but we should and I believe will do all we can to maintain the quality of life here that we all so cherish.
Diane Johnson: I see a thriving downtown area, perhaps filled in with more dense (and affordable) housing; fewer lawns, more native landscaping; more young families who are able to telecommute to coast-based businesses.