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WMB Report: Possible Threat to Water Inflows to Borrego's Water Basin

 

Last updated 10/22/2020 at 11:08am



All directors were present for the Oct. 8 regular meeting of the WaterMaster Board. As soon as the meeting started, during comments from the public, Borrego Water District’s Lyle Brecht introduced an issue that has come to the BWD Board’s attention via correspondence from Gary Worobec of Riverside County.

On Oct. 20, the Riverside Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote to allow commercial cannabis cultivation in an area that is likely to impact water flow into our basin in Borrego. Brecht mentioned an estimate that inflow to our aquifer might be 1,000 acre feet/year lower if such cultivation is allowed in the Anza-Terwilliger area above Coyote Creek. Coyote Creek is the source of 80% of the recharge to our aquifer. The total recharge to our basin is said to be 5,700 acre feet/year, and therefore using that amount of water for all of Borrego Springs is the sustainable use goal we are scheduled to meet by 2040. Worobec stated that hundreds of acres of hemp are currently being planted. BWD has already written a letter to the Riverside BOS and Planning Division asking that no hemp be permitted to grow in this area and would like the WMB to write a letter as well. Director Jim Bennett asked for a map of the area relative to Coyote Creek. BWD General Manager Geoff Poole has one and will forward documents to ED Samantha Adams to circulate. Director Shannon Smith wanted more background and the attorney’s advice. Director Mark Jorgensen said in support of sending a letter of concern that the issue is important, and that the aquifer above Coyote Creek is not very deep. The item was postponed until the end of the meeting to give Directors time to consider whether to call a single-item special meeting to authorize sending a letter of concern about the matter.

During his report, Counsel Jim Markman said that he is very familiar with the Anza-Terwilliger area and its issues, as he represents some of the homeowners in that area, and has worked with the watermaster (possibly of the adjacent watershed) over the issue of marijuana growers. Many people are concerned about water supply impacts, and said he’d be happy to help with this issue. At the end of the meeting, the Board authorized the ED to set a special meeting (these have a 24 hour public notice requirement) on this issue and to coordinate a time for the meeting. Markman will draft a letter and prepare a special meeting notice to be signed by the directors and returned to the ED so she can publicly notice the meeting.

The WMB voted unanimously that Chair Dave Duncan and Director Jorgensen will be the official signers of checks, since they can make an in-person appearance together to sign the forms for this as required by the bank. More generally, the WMB agreed to a resolution that would in future potentially allow any board member to sign checks, with the ED as backup signer, and with two signers required for all checks.

A Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) as provided for in the Stipulation Agreement is in process of being formed. ED Adams has sent a letter to the settling parties asking for their technical participants. WMB Technical Consultant Andy Malone of Wildermuth Environmental will prepare a memo to the Board after each TAC meeting. Meetings will be publicly noticed and are open to members of the public. Topics of the initial and subsequent meetings were discussed and include the Meter Reading Program (who will read meters in future) and Water Quality Monitoring Program (WQMP).

A lengthy discussion commenced about what was agreed to in the Stipulation and what has actually occurred regarding water quality monitoring. It turns out that there were no funds and therefore no water quality monitoring in the spring, which creates a worrisome data gap since it has been a year since the program has been active. Dudek had a contract to monitor that ended in Oct./Nov. 2019 and BWD did not have funds to pay to continue. The Stipulation tasks the WMB with continuing the program as it was described in the GSP, now part of the Stipulation documents. Dudek has given data from the last water quality readings to Wildermuth while retaining data for confidential wells. Staff was directed to come back to the next regular meeting, on Nov. 12, with recommendations for reestablishing the WQMP.

Not mentioned were the many conversations at BWD meetings and with Poole, brought up by members of the public, about the need to widen the number of wells in the WQMP so that the northeast and east corridors of the valley are being monitored, closing an important data gap. It is hoped that this will be taken up by the TAC.

Of the 23 settling parties to the initial Stipulation Judgment, 20 have wells that are being actively pumped, and those 20 parties have 52 wells that are to be monitored. In presenting the results of the initial reading of these wells, ED Adams gave thanks to BWD for the meter reading and special thanks to BWD’s Alan Asche, who contacted all well owners, executed the readings fully and submitted the data promptly to Wildermuth.

All but one of the 19 smart meters were read, and that one is in process of being fixed. All 33 of the manual meters were read. Fourty-eight of the wells were assessed for meter accuracy by Sept. 30. Six wells needed accuracy improvement (some over-reported due to turbulence) and 4 wells need accuracy certification and are being worked on. Ten wells need completed documentation (some were missing the photos needed) and all are working to resolve missing documents or certification and should be resolved quickly, per Adams. Board members expressed their appreciation to all involved.

CASGEM status was briefly mentioned, with a report coming to the WMB in the near future. This is the California Statewide Groundwater Elevation Monitoring Program, which tracks long term groundwater elevation trends in groundwater basins statewide. The CA Department of Water Resources (DWR) collaborates with local monitoring parties to make information available to the public. You can create a free account at http://www.casgem.water.ca.gov and once data from our basin is posted (not yet) you can view it there.

The ED is working with BWD to verify that all fallowing standards have been met for existing BPA (Baseline pumping allocation) holders. This relates to credits for water use for those who have fallowed actively used agricultural land in the past. A letter will be issued that the standard has been met once verified. Adams will report to the WMB on forming the letter, who it will be sent to and how these conversions from past water credits to BPAs will be handled.

BWD’s attorney, Steve Anderson of Best, Best and Krieger, spoke about the notices that have gone out to Borrego’s landowners about the adjudication of water use in our basin. Please see the sidebar for important information about this. Alternate Director Martha Deichler mentioned that the Borrego Valley Stewardship Council will host an online Forum on Oct. 30 at 4 p.m. about the notices to help inform the public and answer questions. Contact mdeichler@bsusd.net if you want to attend. Attorneys Anderson and Milkey said they would attend, although Anderson noted that while he can provide information, he won’t be able to give legal advice. BWD Board Members and WMB Members will also be in attendance.

Forming the Environmental Working Group will be on the agenda for the next regular WMB meeting on Nov. 12 at 4:30 p.m. Notice of WMB Meetings and agenda packets can be found at http://www.borregowd.org and you can email sadams@weiwater.com to be added to the WMB email list to receive direct invitations to the internet based meetings.

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