Opinion: Rumor vs. Fact...


Last updated 5/3/2022 at 9:27am

The Borrego Sun tries to follow up when someone calls with a concern, question or suspicion. While some are occasionally bordering on the edge of a conspiracy, we still check it out. We do this because we are a newspaper. When wrong information begins circulating, and playing loose with the truth, it can lead to unintended consequences, mounting frustrations, and even angry repercussions. Life has enough real anxiety causing realities without adding unreal concerns to sleepless nights.

We follow-up when we can. We try, through research and talking to the people involved to sort facts from hearsay. It’s much easier to spread stories that aren’t fact checked, than get to the heart of a matter. At the Borrego Sun, we don’t always get it right, but that’s the goal. The other goal is to give people facts when the community needs to make a decision, or to arm individuals with the necessary information to make honest, and solutions-oriented decisions.

Plus, by following up on a concern or question from the community, we also learn new things. A mystery is a reporter’s playground. The three-year investigation of the Borrego Community Health Foundation began with concerned people asking about the unexplained firing of two popular professionals from the Borrego Springs Clinic.

A more recent example, a person who wished to remain anonymous, reported water trucks with private brands were drawing water from a Borrego Water District Well, located in a field just off of Borrego Springs Drive, and the Anza Drive cross street. He was concerned something crooked might be a foot. Plus, he wondered how Borrego could share water, given the rates and status of the water supply in Borrego. We investigated, with full cooperation of the water district’s executive manager, and board president. In addition to pouring through seven years of Water Board minutes, we found answers.

The deal, a previous 2015 BWD board agreement, was to negotiate the price of selling 40-acre feet of water to a private developer, building a Solar farm in Ocotillo Wells. The contract with the Gildred Company included a $25,000 deposit to hold the agreement until the investors were ready to build. This year, the developer came calling with a contract in hand.

The current Water District Board felt they must honor the previous agreement. They negotiated a hefty price for the one time draw of water, and other concessions the developer had to meet, believing it to be a good financial deal for the District. The amount of water at stake: 40-acre feet (12.86 million gallons of water) represents two percent of all the water currently being used by the Water District. Whether the water board should have sold the water is a question the readers were left to decide for themselves. In addition to uncovering the mystery of the water trucks, we were able to give readers a bonus, attempting to explain Borrego’s rates, and comparing, what some consider BWD’s high rates, with Escondido Municipal Water District’s rates.

Contrast this with a recent post on the Borrego 2004 Facebook.

“The mystery of the water trucks has been solved and it doesn’t look good for BS residents. 100,000 gallons are being pumped out every day from someone’s personal well and being taken to Ocotillo Wells because his well in Ocotillo has dried up. He needs the water to put in a 300-acre Solar farm. The city can’t do anything about it, neither can the residents.”

This is a classic case of not pursuing facts. The individual, who first brought us concerns about private water trucks, drawing water from a Borrego Springs Water District well, wanted information before adding to the ongoing rumor mill. That’s the good news.

The Facebook post has a number of errors. The total for one thing is not 100,000 gallons a day for an unspecified time, but is actually a one-time sale of 40-acre feet. Another is that the water is being pumped from someone’s personal well. It’s being pumped from a Water District well, which is monitoring each withdrawal. The water is being used for dust abatement at the Solar construction site. If the developer ultimately needs less water than in the contract, the deal ends. Another common error is the assumption Borrego is a “city and can’t do something about it.” Borrego is an unincorporated community not a city. There’s a big difference between being incorporated as a city and an unincorporated rural town.

Borrego’s local governance is through the County Board of Supervisors. The Borrego Water District is the authority for water provided through the District, as opposed to private wells. While there is no city council to call on to stop the sale, residents may attend Water Board meetings, ask questions, express their concerns, or even a desire to have the contract canceled. However, canceling a contract at this point might lead to some legal issues and costs.

In the meantime, the Sun is willing to investigate big and little issues, bringing to light the facts when we can get them. It’s very disappointing after putting in days of interviews and collecting background on the mystery water trucks to find it recycling on Facebook without facts.

The common request to give a news tip anonymously, or individuals not wanting their name used when making a contribution to an article, is uncomfortable for the newspaper, and readers alike. Sometimes, there are serious reasons for anonymity, especially if the person might suffer harm in some way. However, the point of quoting people is to allow readers to decide about the veracity of the person being quoted. What type of credibility do they have? And why should people believe the information?

Real quotes from real people, who are named, also assures readers the newspaper isn’t making up quotes to fit the story. We would prefer people to come forward with their name and titles when they contribute, and many do. But in journalism, as in life, you don’t always get what you want. When an anonymous quote or query is important to an issue at hand, we use it and agree to protect the source. And sometimes, we can’t get the answers, even after trying. For example, we are still looking for answers to the white disposal trucks that speed through town in pairs, carrying an unknown content to the Salton Sea.

However, before spouting off fiction as fact, it might be a good idea to bring a question to the newspaper, check the Sun’s archives, or subscribe to the paper. It could save stirring up the community with faulty information, or the humiliation of passing along untruths. Unlike amateurs on social media, the Sun works to present facts, rather than rumors.

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