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WMB Report: Rumors, Prior Agreements, Data Gaps

 

Last updated 12/9/2020 at 10:15am



For the agenda and agenda packet for the Nov. 12 Watermaster Board (WMB) Meeting, please see: http://www.borregowd.org/water-master. According to ED Samantha Adams, a WMB web page should be up and running by the end of November.

Highlights from the meeting include:

- Announcement by WMB Chair Dave Duncan that there have been discussions about WMB Community Representative Mark Jorgensen not being allowed, according to the Stipulated Agreement, to appoint a representative to the WMB Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), since only pumpers may do so. The Borrego Water District Board has voted to allow Director Jorgensen access to its TAC representative, Trey Driscoll of Dudek Engineering, in order to help redress this imbalance of representation.

- The TAC initial meeting report was given and can be viewed in the agenda packet at the link above. The emphasis in the report was on strengthening the water monitoring program to make sure initial data is accurate. The next TAC meeting will be in April 2021, at which time the water metering program will be reviewed and scope of work proposals for other TAC tasks, possibly including monitoring of water quality, will be taken up.

- Directors Jorgensen and Jim Bennett were appointed to form a WMB Environmental Working Group and generate a scope of its work. WMB Tech Advisor Andy Malone will lead the subcommittee and ED Adams will also participate.

- ED Adams announced that Wildermuth Environmental has formally changed hands and is now owned by West Yost Associates (https://www.westyost.com). The formal announcement will occur on Nov. 16. All contracts with the WMB will be assigned without changes and the personnel working with the WMB will also remain unchanged.

- The case management conference at the Orange County Superior Court (cyberspace meeting) for the Groundwater Management Plan (GMP)/adjudication is scheduled for Nov. 20 and is open only to those participating in the lawsuit. Ag Attorney Michelle Staples also reported that WMB servicing on Borrego property owners will be completed the first week in December.

- The ED’s financial report can be found in the agenda packet and shows that Wildermuth/Westyost estimated expenditures for WMB operations in the upcoming year are below the expenditures estimates in the Stipulated Agreement.

Rumors

At the Nov. 12 WMB Regular Meeting, Lyle Brecht (BWD Board Vice President) made a public comment about rumors that are or have been circulating in town that he finds harmful to an understanding about Borrego’s GMP. My three notes for context: 1) The proposed San Diego County Water Authority’s (SDCWA’s) Regional Conveyance System (RCS) “pipeline” project that has a potential and preferred route through Borrego Springs, even if approved, funded and built, despite growing community opposition, would not be able to deliver any water to Borrego for 25 years after building begins, which is well past our 2040 deadline for sustainable water use under our GMP. And the Colorado River water, if it ever actually became available, would be prohibitively expensive for us. 2) The WMB’s TAC is tasked in the Stipulated Agreement to review the sustainable yield (amount of water we can sustainably pump in the Valley) every five years. Its work should not be influenced by unrealistic pressures. 3) As has been stated since presentations began about our GMP, BWD reductions in water use referred to in the first bullet point below, don’t begin for ten years and the District has plans to purchase water so that water supplies for individual municipal customers will continue as they have even after reductions begin. Brecht sent me the following recap of his public comments:

“For the past three years during the development of the Groundwater Sustainability Plan, ratepayers have approached me complaining of the ~70% reduction in water use that would be required of them. This belief persisted in spite of repeated declarations by many authoritative parties in numerous public forums that reductions under SGMA applied to pumpers like the District, not municipal water end users.

Now, with the discussion of San Diego County Water Authority’s Regional Conveyance System Route 3A through Borrego as a preferred choice for a pipeline. I am being asked why we need to reduce annual pumping at all? Won’t a pipeline delivering Colorado River water to Borrego solve the critical overdraft problem?

I find myself aghast at the misunderstandings and misstatements of some folks that should know better that gives rise to such nonsensical and unrealistic beliefs.

My concern is that these memes, which have deep historical baggage in the community, where between 2007 – 2010 a pipeline to Borrego was sold as the obvious solution to the critical overdraft, despite no analytical or practical basis for make such claim, we find ourselves not back at square one but deeper into a persistent unreality.

I would like to put this issue on the table to discuss at our first December meeting to see if anyone may have some ideas how to curtail us going down the rabbit hole yet again and hopefully come up with an educational program approach that proactively supports the Subbasin’s Watermaster’s task at bringing the basin into sustainable use, and the District’s 218 Process for delivering potable water to its customers going forward.”

Brecht also mentioned that the Riverside County Board of Supervisors did move to inhibit more hemp farms in the area of concern that might affect inflows of water to the Borrego Valley, and permits already issued expire in two years.

Prior Agreeements

Background and examples of the privately negotiated Stipulated Agreement limiting current recommendations by WMB advisors include:

Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) Advisory Committee: Citing privacy concerns, Agricultural (Ag) representatives wouldn’t reveal amounts of water pumped nor agree to have outside parties enter well owners’ properties to monitor well meters. Ag held out for private negotiations over these issues and perhaps in response to concerns by community representatives that municipal water use wasn’t sufficiently protected. These private negotiations lead to the current water plan.

Early WMB Meeting: Newly appointed ED and Counsel to the WMB both stated that the entry agreement to allow meter reading by the WaterMaster on Ag properties was negotiated unevenly to benefit well owners over the interests of the WMB and should be looked at again. At the following meeting, this notion was withdrawn without comment. When asked about it, the answer was that the negotiated Stipulated Agreement will be followed.

The first meeting of the WMB Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) was on Oct. 27. The tech advisors agreed that the first year of meter reading for water monitoring is important to get right and suggested a schedule that included a quarterly WMB manual meter read for smart meters during the first seven months, since the smart meters sometimes have reporting issues even after the meter is initially certified.

The TAC report official recommendations to the WMB at the Nov. 12 meeting, however, included quarterly manual monitoring by the owners of smart metered wells, with optional WMB manual monitoring if requested by the well owner. When asked why the recommendation changed so that well owners could now manually monitor their own wells, the answer was that the privately negotiated Stipulated Agreement did not allow for WMB initiated entrance to private property without prior agreement by the property owner. The fallback in case of telemetric meter reporting errors is now that there will be an annual certification of smart meters by a third party contractor, leaving aside the issue of making sure the first year’s numbers are as accurate as possible through a WMB manual reading.

The safeguard the TAC did include is that the quarterly reading by well owners of smart meters will include photographic “proof” of their reading, and bimonthly meter readings by well owners will include a pdf of the meter readout for smart meters and photographic “proof” for manual meters. Every other month, meter readings will be conducted by the WMB – manual reads of manual meters and WMB telemetric reading of smart meters. These procedures will be reviewed again at the April 2021 TAC meeting.

Data Gaps in the Water Quality Monitoring Network (WQMN) in the GSP exist in the north and northeast parts of the Valley, perhaps the most important areas to monitor for future or existing water quality issues.

This was brought up in the GSP Advisory Committee meetings (2017 – 2019) but was not acted upon.

This was brought up to the BWD and to the General Manager of BWD and there was a discussion, but no action on broadening the WQMN (2018 – 2020).

It takes five years for a data trend to be identified once water sampling has begun.

There was an offer to arrange for much less expensive and immediate water sampling by contacting owners of existing wells in the areas with data gaps so that we could have some useful sampling data, even if not the level of data that would eventually be provided with a formal network expansion (at a greater cost).

This was brought up again at the October TAC Meeting, and the TAC will take this issue up for discussion in 2021 with its Scope of Work and Budget Proposals.

There won’t be any expansion of the WQMN for a few years, as the Stipulated Agreement only provides for the existing network as described in the GSP to be continued for the first two years of the WMB.

Upcoming WMB Regular Meetings are scheduled for Dec. 10, and Jan. 14, 2021 at 4:30 p.m. To receive an agenda and packet via email, send a request to be put on the WMB email list to sadams@westyost.com.

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