Water Rights Top Priority for BWD
Last updated 11/19/2021 at 2:27pm
The Stipulated Judgment (Judgment) in Borrego was ruled upon favorably by the Orange County Superior Court in April 2021 and determined water rights based on historic pumping in the Basin. The Judgment was signed by approximately 90% of Basin Pumpers and specifies the steps that will be taken to create sustainability in our Groundwater Basin including reduction in pumping by approximately 75% by 2040. The BWD Board is now beginning to implement Plans that have been years in the making to ensure the water needs of existing customers are met in perpetuity.
The definition of Sustainability was determined by the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act adopted by the CA Legislature in 2014. For a Basin to be considered “sustainable”, the inflow and outflow must be in balance (inflow-outflow = 0). Using the pumping reduction schedule agreed upon in the Judgment, every pumper in the Basin will have its allocation reduced by 5% every year from 2020-30 and 2.5% per year from 2031-2040 = 75% total.
Since importing water into Borrego is not feasible, the fundamental component of Borrego Springs water future is based on transfers between pumpers. As pumping reductions are enforced, there will come a time in the future when BWD will need to acquire water rights to meet the needs of existing customers.
The important first step is estimating how much water and when it will be needed to meet existing demands. One beneficial component of The Judgment is the ability to carry over unused pumping allocation, similar to cell phone minutes. Based on current rampdown schedule (subject to change every 5 years) and carry over, BWD will need to acquire water rights in approximately 10 years. Although mathematically BWD has an estimated 10 years, the Board is not waiting and has already begun to take the initial steps for water right acquisition, starting now.
In October 2021, BWD approved a Water Right Acquisition Program (Program) for holders of rights who voluntarily decide to stop or reduce their pumping from the Subbasin and are interested in permanently transferring, by way of traditional sale, option, or otherwise, a portion of or all of their water rights, whether immediately or in the future.
BWD will consider a wide range of available methods to consummate the permanent transfer of water rights including but not limited to purchase of water rights alone; purchase of water rights and associated real property including a lease back option for a designated period of time.
BWD had received a suggestion that a Right of First Refusal on all future water right sales be incorporated into the Program. Although a great idea, BWD Legal Counsel determined there is no statutory authority to impose such a condition and may violate Private Property Owner rights. In an effort to accomplish the same goal of BWD being the first potential buyer contacted by any water rights seller in the future, the General Manager will inform each water rights holder that BWD is in the market and encourage all that when they have an interest selling all of part of their rights, please contact BWD first.
How the water rights are acquired are all important facts outlined above. However, the most significant issue is locating a source of funds to purchase the water rights in an effort to reduce/prevent water rate impacts. BWD has hired Legislative Advocates in DC and Sacramento with specific focus on locating Grant Opportunities for water right acquisition and water/sewer infrastructure replacement. Known, identified opportunities exist in 2021 for BWD to obtain grant funding for a portion of the water rights needed. Obtaining the necessary water supply to meet water use of existing customers is a top priority for BWD.