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$10 Million Water Grant Raises Proposals, Temperatures


Last updated 3/1/2022 at 1:30pm

When it comes to competition for money, count on a fight. The competition for the $7.6 million, Proposition 68 Grant got heated, and tensions mounted as scoring for the 13 entities submitting applications to the state Department of Water Resources (DWR) were made final.

Of the final participating applicants for the grant, only seven applicants made the first round of the $7.6 million cut off, with three hoping to make the $10 million mark. While the $7.6 million is guaranteed, the extra $2 million plus available in the $10 million cutoff is hypothetical, depending on whether other districts do not use all of their grant money, or projects are rejected in the Borrego package, allowing the others in line to move up into the funding categories.

After the dust and the tempers settled, the applicants scoring the most points and making the $7.6 million guaranteed round of funds were: The Borrego Water District, scoring top points, and coming in with three projects totaling $4,540,500; the Borrego Unified School District at $384,000; Borrego Valley Stewardship Council, $200,000; the Borrego WaterMaster with two project proposals – $755, 340, and a $1,983,250 application. The grand total of the highest scoring applications was $7,963,090.

Waiting in the wings, hoping to at least make the $10 million excess funding mark, hoping the DWR will have money left over, because other water districts did not apply for their full allotment, or one or more of the above local grants are not approved are: the de Anza Country Club, seeking $1.217,110; followed by the Borrego Valley Endowment Fund for $685,400; and the Tubb Canyon Conservancy, at $1,037,000. The total of the first round cut off, plus the hopefuls was $10,903,600.

The outliers that did not score enough points to make the $7.6 million or the $10 million cutoffs, were submissions by the San Diego Farm Bureau/AAWARE, $742,000; Borrego WaterMaster for $585,000; and another San Diego Farm Bureau/AAWARE, at $535,000.

When asked what were the chances Borrego would actually get more than the $7.6 million in grant money, Kelley List in charge of the Prop. 68, grants for critically over-drafted districts, responded:

“As stated on our website and in our grant documents, up to $7.6M per basin is available to award in Round 1. Applicants can receive less than that amount, but not more.”

Scoring for the Borrego Projects was done by a committee composed of all the applicants. The Borrego Water District and WaterMaster Board have been negotiating various issues arising from within the group since November 2021, and have apparently reached a consensus. Even though, according to some applicants, there are still last-minute problems to be ironed out.

One of the major obstacles for the grant is that the applicant must fund the costs upfront, with reimbursement by the state upon completion of the project. Some organizations dropped out, or did not apply, because they did not have the upfront funds; and some in the running are still seeking partners to underwrite the funding and management of their application.

The other controversy surrounds the de Anza Desert Club’s $1.2 million application. The feeling among some of the other applicants is that tax payer funds should not be used to fund a project that only benefits a private landowner. While the DWR grant guidelines allow for private parties to apply they must prove their project benefits the community and the groundwater basin.

The de Anza project proposes fallowing 53 acres of the 147-acre-golf course. The fallowed area will be replaced with Drought resistant and native plants, along with water conserving irrigation. According to the project proposal, reducing water use and costs will result in savings to the Country Club, which will support their ability to retain some 40 employees from the community, provide for wild animal corridors, trails for tourists, and continued charitable contributions to the community by the Club.

According to List, “As the guidelines state, a project can be located on private property if the project does not solely benefit the property owner, but benefits the basin and community as a whole; the Grantee can demonstrate they have either an access agreement, right of way access, or an easement for a minimum of 15 years; and the Grantee can maintain the access to upkeep, maintain, and operate the project for a minimum of 15 years.”

Detractors of the De Anza Desert Club project claim, the basic problem with the grant, aside from the big one, which is private ownership, the applicants failed to prove the improved landscaping proposed for the 53 acres meets the requirement of benefiting the entire community, but simply allows a private LLC to conserve their own water sources by creating water efficient landscaping. The conserved water translates into “roll over credits,” meaning de Anza owners maintain the water credits (water saved) created by the application for future use. This, others argue, means that no water is ultimately saved, and de Anza Country Club gets a free landscape makeover.

The entire Borrego grant package will be submitted to DWR for review and evaluation for compliance to Prop. 68 and auxiliary guidelines. Deadline for submission of the application package by BWD is February 28. The awardees are expected to be notified sometime in March.

“The bottom-line,” according to Geoff Poole, BWD General Manager, “Is that water savings and even rate savings are going to happen as a result of the many fine proposals submitted. Everyone who applied should be congratulated for their hard work and concern for Borrego’s future water sustainability.”

Information on Prop.68, the grants, and entire groundwater legislation can be found at Department of Water Resources The Borrego Water District website has information on the process for scoring the grants, the scores, and all of the grant proposals, as well as the final Borrego application package for the $7.6 million, plus explanations of SGMA and Borrego’s Adjudicated Groundwater plan.

The Borrego WaterMaster Board website also provides information on all of the above, including final scores for the winning grants, plus names of the members of the WaterMaster Board, task forces and members, and more. Both contain agenda’s, minutes of the meetings, and information on Borrego’s pumpers.

– Nikki Symington