Significant Ruling for Borrego Springs Sub Basin
Last updated 4/16/2021 at 9:47am
On April 8 2021, Superior Court Judge Peter Wilson approved the Stipulated Judgment and Settlement Agreement for the Borrego Springs Sub Basin.
This action is a significant milestone to begin implementation of the steps necessary for our Critically Overdrafted Basin to be brought into sustainability by 2040, where we pump out no more than what is naturally replenished each year.
In 2014, the California Legislature approved the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) mandating all groundwater basins identify the overdraft as well as the proposed actions that are needed to address it. Shortly thereafter with the release of a USGS Hydrologic Model for Borrego Springs it was estimated a pumping reduction of 70% was needed for Basin sustainability.
In 2018, the County of San Diego, Borrego Water District (BWD) and an Advisory Committee of local stakeholders began to work on the development of the SGMA-required Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP). The group took 2 years and 19 meetings to write an 1,800-page GSP that governs pumping allocations, land fallowing standards, air quality monitoring and environmental impacts among other things. In the GSP, the overdraft was re-calculated and the 70% USGS number was increased to 76%.
One component of the SGMA Legislation creates a way to shorten the adjudication process which determines water rights in a Basin. Historically these adjudications are contentious and can take decades to resolve with a high cost to all participants. Fortunately, SGMA created this fast-track option called an Expedited Adjudication. In this case, over 75% of Basin Pumpers must agree on and commit to their pumping restrictions and Borrego surpassed that threshold.
Near the end of Borrego’s GSP development process, representatives of the vast majority of Basin pumping in all sectors (agriculture, recreation and municipal) chose the fast-track option and took all the facts, findings and recommendations from the GSP and created a Groundwater Management Plan (GMP) for an Expedited Adjudication.
SGMA requires that a judge approve the use of an Expedited Adjudication and its GMP as a substitute for the GSP. Judge Wilson ruled in favor of Borrego’s Expedited Adjudication on April 8 and the Groundwater Management Plan (GMP) was submitted to California’s Department of Water Resources, DWR. DWR has up to two years to review and potentially ask for revisions to Borrego’s GMP.
Judge Wilson’s ruling also gives jurisdiction for day-to-day management, as well as long range sustainability planning of the Basin to the Watermaster Board and staff. The Watermaster Board has been functioning since March 2020 on a voluntary basis and is comprised of representatives of Agriculture, Municipal and Recreational pumping as well as a representative from the Borrego Community. West Yost has been the Consulting Hydrologist firm selected as the staff to support the Watermaster Board. Implementing the GMP following SGMA requirements is the primary purpose of the Watermaster.
The Watermaster Board and staff, and entire community, can now officially begin to focus on the hard work of reaching sustainability without the risk of being distracted from legal challenges. In fact, with organizing installation of meters on all large, active wells and filing of SGMA mandated 2nd Annual Reports by the Watermaster, some of the important first steps have already been taken.
For more information about the Watermaster can be found at BorregoSpringsWatermaster.com.