Borrego Sun - Since 1949

By J. David Garmon M.D.
President Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy 

Opposition Grows to RCS


Last updated 4/25/2021 at 9:33am

At the next meeting of the Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group on May 6, 2021 at 4:30 p.m., representatives from the San Diego County Water Authority (CWA) will pitch their plan to turn Borrego Springs into an industrial construction zone for 15 years to build a Regional Conveyance System (RCS) to transport their water from the Colorado River to their customers in San Diego. The presentation to the Sponsor Group was originally planned for April 1, but the CWA’s proposed RCS is no joke. The nearly $4M the CWA has already committed to studying this project demonstrates how serious they are.

Details of the CWA’s proposed RCS have been described in these pages (“Chinatown comes to Borrego,” the Borrego Sun, September 15, 2020 and “Desert Pipe Dream,” The Borrego Sun, Nov. 26, 2020), and can be found in the CWA’s August 2020 Phase A – Final Report. Key elements of the RCS include 1) digging a trench 38 miles long, 20 feet deep, and 35 feet wide from near the Salton Sea to the heart of Borrego Springs, 2) boring a tunnel 47 miles long and 14 feet in diameter from Rams Hill, Palm Canyon, Tubb Canyon, or Glorietta Canyon under the mountains to Escondido, 3) building an enormous pumping station in Borrego Springs to house the four 12,500 horsepower pumps needed to pump the water to CWA’s Twin Oaks facility near Escondido, and 4) building high voltage power lines through the Park and Borrego Springs to power the pumps.

The first opponents of the RCS came from within the CWA itself. The CWA is composed of 24 Member Agencies, that is 24 water districts that buy water from CWA and then sell it to their own retail customers. Eighteen of the 24 Member Agencies had serious concerns about the conclusions being teed up in the Phase A Report, and so commissioned their own independent analysis of the RCS, which concluded the project does not make economic sense. Their Member Agency Managers (MAM) Report was published in July 2020, a month before CWA’s Phase A Report.

Opposition to the RCS has been growing since the CWA published its Phase A Report in August 2020. A lead article in The San Diego Union-Tribune (“Water project: $5 billion pipe dream?” Feb. 7, 2021) characterized the RCS in two short sentences: “Estimated cost: roughly $5 billion. New water delivered: None.” In the same article, Matt O’Malley, executive director and managing attorney for San Diego Coastkeeper said, “The environmental destruction that would happen to the backcountry, to the parks, the mountains, it’s ludicrous. We would use everything within our arsenal including legal remedies to stop this.” O’Malley continued, “If you were looking for a way to unite all environmentalists in full opposition to something, this is the project you’d come up with.”

Opponents like O’Malley on the San Diego side of the mountains object to this project for myriad reasons: there already is a pipeline that delivers CWA’s Colorado River water to San Diego; unlike desalination plants or recycling programs, the RCS does not provide one drop of new water for San Diego customers; the proposed route for the RCS would require 40% more energy to transport the same water than the pipeline currently being used; the RCS would increases San Diego’s greenhouse gas emissions; the City of San Diego calculates the RCS is not affordable to city ratepayers. These objections, and many others, are detailed in a September 1, 2020 article in The Voice of San Diego, “The Water Authority is Resurrecting its Pipe Dream – Again.”

For those living in Borrego Springs and concerned about protecting their community and the wilderness of the surrounding Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (ABDSP), the objections to the RCS are more personal. CWA’s Phase A report estimates it would take 15 years to dig the trench, bore the tunnel, construct the pumping stations, and raise the high voltage powerlines. Much, if not the majority, of this activity would occur in Borrego Springs, transforming the community into an industrial construction zone for a decade and a half.

Because of the impact the RCS would have on Borrego Springs and the surrounding Park, Borrego’s civil organizations have begun expressing opinions ranging from “serious concerns” to explicit opposition. In its September 20, 2020 letter to CWA the Borrego Water District raised concerns about the RCS’s potentially unaffordable costs to BWD ratepayers and the impacts it could have on Borrego’s water quality.

The Borrego Village Association (BVA) wrote to CWA on October 17, 2020 to express its concerns about the RCS’s impact on the pristine desert environment that is the engine for Borrego’s economic driver – tourism. The BVA letter also raised concerns about noise pollution and light pollution.

In an October 15, 2020 letter to CWA, the Anza-Borrego Foundation concluded, “the purported benefits of the RCS project will not justify the possible adverse effects to California’s most spectacular State Park, as well as to the community of Borrego Springs and nearby portions of both San Diego and Imperial Counties.”

In its August 24, 2020 letter to CWA the Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy asserted, “For Borrego Springs the RCS is a pipe dream that promises too little, too late, and at an exorbitant ecological cost to the region. For these and myriad other reasons that will be elaborated at a later date, the Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy pledges its opposition to any alignment of the RCS that traverses the ABDSP and the community of Borrego Springs.”

Most recently, the California State Park Rangers Association (CSPRA) in their February 13, 2021 letter to San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria requested the mayor to “intervene to quash this ill-conceived water transfer proposal by the San Diego County Water Authority.” In their impassioned plea to the mayor the CSPRA letter says, “the (RCS) proposal sets a dangerous precedent. State Wildernesses, such as that at Anza, have never been violated by underground utilities. The desert would not recover from negative impacts for many generations, if ever. State parks and wilderness areas are not set aside for infrastructure. They are protected because they are unique and special places.”

If you would like to make your voice heard on this existential issue for Borrego’s future, please plan to attend the meeting of the Sponsor Group on May 6, 2021 at 4:30 p.m. The CWA representatives need to hear from as many Borregans as possible.

To speak at the Sponsor Group meeting you must register in advance by sending an email to Vice-Chair Bonnie Petrach at