What's Going on at the Water Master Board?


Last updated 10/2/2020 at 12:09pm

Periodic disclaimer: This report is not the same as minutes of WMB meetings. I feel free to give my own perspective, and my emphasis is on communicating what might matter for the community to know about the meetings.

Having said this, it took a few days after the Sept. 10 late afternoon meeting for me to calm my uneasy feeling enough to write this report. The meeting was confusing on a few levels, but after reflection, all is most likely OK. After all, there are different interests represented on the Board, despite this WaterMaster Board Directors are continuing to aspire to work collaboratively, there are some fumbles as those unused to the Brown Act refine their understanding, and the Board hasn’t yet gelled to the point that thorough and comfortable discussion occurs each time that is warranted.

Officers were elected. Director Dave Duncan is now the Chairman, Director Shannon Smith is now the Vice-Chair and Smith also serves as the Secretary/Treasurer. The latter position serves in an oversight capacity, as ED Samantha Adams and other staff from Wildermuth will provide minutes, financial reports, and the like. Alternate Director Leanne Crow, standing in for Director Jim Bennett, suggested combining the Secretary and Treasurer positions, which was agreed upon, and after Director Mike Seley turned down being nominated for this position, Director Smith was nominated.

I wondered why the Secretary and Treasurer positions were combined when Alternate Director Martha Deichler could have served, even if some wanted Director Smith to serve in an additional capacity, as appeared to be the case – perhaps because, as Crow pointed out, he was instrumental in making the Stipulation Agreement happen Since the Secretary and Treasurer do not have to be voting members of the Board, Deichler’s position as standing in for Director Mark Jorgensen some of the time, as she did at this meeting, and not when he is present, would have made her a logical choice for one of those positions, and would have provided the Board with more local available choices when documents require a sign-off from more than one officer. Perhaps this advantage will be discussed in future if need arises.

It was decided that the regular meeting time of the WMB will be 2nd Thursday at 4:30 p.m. (agendas are noticed 72 hours in advance for regular meetings), while it is likely there will be additionally scheduled special meetings in the next few months.

The principal location for the WMB is likely to be at the offices of Wildermuth (WEI) in Orange County. Correspondence that came in from Jack McGrory with an offer to have a local part-time office at his personal suite at La Casa del Zorro was discussed in a preliminary way. Questions remained and the WMB’s physical location is likely to be on the agenda for the next special meeting, scheduled for Sept. 24 at 4:30 p.m. The sentiment seemed to be that files would be kept at WEI, and a local office would be for meetings with the public, other small meetings, public information requests, and the like, with WMB meetings in person, when that becomes possible, to be held at either BWD or the library. McGrory also evidently offered the use of his suite for WMB staff when they need to stay in Borrego.

Meter reading protocols were adopted by the Board. They can be found in the agenda packet and involve filling out a data sheet and taking photos. Director Duncan abstained from the vote since he is also a Borrego Water District (BWD) Board Director, and BWD will perform the first round of meter readings. Ag Attorney Michele Staples asked that GPS locations recorded on the forms not be given out to the public for security reasons (reports of water theft from pumps exist in other areas). Counsel Markman said that redacting that information from any public record requests would simply be a matter of directing staff to do so.

Markman expressed hope that meters are going in during the next two weeks as the meter reading is scheduled of occur by Oct. 1. When asked for a report back on the statement, the ED and Counsel each made at the last meeting about the entry permit for meter reading being written to favor property owners over the WMB, the only statement either provided at this meeting was that the entry permits are in the exact form as appears in the Stipulated Judgment.

A WMB bank account is needed to pay consultants, deposit checks, etc. WEI can provide those services at their bank account on behalf of the WMB and provide statements for all financials and provide an audit. The CFO of WEI is working on the logistics to make that happen. A proposal will be brought to the WMB in one of the next two meetings.

ED Adams reported that she has a contact list for all settlement participants (pumpers). Letters went out to all parties that the meter reading events would happen 9/28, 9/29 and 9/30. She’s started receiving entry permits back from pumpers. One of the vendors for meter reading accuracy tests is reserving eight of their remaining service days in September for Borrego pumpers and a discount will be given when booked as a group. They can test four wells per day. Fifty wells need to be tested; forty of these are confirmed to be tested. Attorney Staples is pulling together the information about who has/has not signed an entry permit. Director Seley offered to work getting any missing entry permits signed.

In response to a question from Alternate Director Crow for an update on the Stipulated Agreement process, BWD Attorney Steve Anderson said that notices have begun to go out this week to Borrego land owners. USPS is accepting 500 notices per day to be mailed to local addresses. (A sample notice can now be found on the BWD web page.) Thick notice packets have been mailed in the last few weeks to all BPA (baseline pumping allocation) assignees, not limited to the settling parties. The court has changed the conference date from Sept. 25 to Nov. 20.

Tim Ross of DWR (CA Department of Water Resources) stated that as of 9/12, their web site will have Borrego’s stipulation documents and the notice to pumpers that DWR received for our basin: https://water.ca.gov/Programs/Groundwater-Management/SGMA-Groundwater-Management/Adjudicated-Areas. The notice posted there has a list of stipulators – those who have claimed a right to pump water from the basin.

Soon to come: a webpage for the WMB. Until then, you can email ED Samantha Adams at sadams@weiwater.com and check the BWD web page for meeting times (front page) and find agendas/packets at: http://www.borregowd.org/water-master/. Next two meetings: September 24 and October 8, 4:30 p.m.