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In Borrego Springs Tourism, Farming Industries Face Uncertainty With Looming Water Cuts

March 6, 2019 1:52 p.m.

GUEST: Geoff Poole, general manager, Borrego Water District

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Related Story: In Borrego Springs Tourism, Farming Industries Face Uncertainty With Looming Water Cuts

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

Tourism and farming are a big and Borrego springs. But Kay PBS reporter Matt Hoffman says the town wants to grow however it's facing a number of challenges.

So we're gonna go up take this little dirt road that veers off of this one Joe photo is getting ready to take tourists on a tour through Anza Borrego Desert State Park just getting up. Yeah. Today he's taking out a group and an old 10 wheel drive military truck. Fellow owns California overland.

It's one of two tour companies that does business inside the state park. The draw for Anza Borrego is that you're getting away from basically the madness of maxed out tourist destinations. This is still and I'm fine even as a business owner having it be this way. But but it's still a wet well-kept secret.

Okay guys come c'mon now. Although part of San Diego County Borrego is definitely off the beaten path. The small town is a two hour drive from downtown San Diego.

It's a very special place because it's a little desert town in the middle of nowhere but it sustains itself off of the people that come into to go out here all the different reasons not just with us but you know to go hiking or just to go check out the flowers or the sculptures in town which are another draw.

San Diego primarily is a source of business and we have always been San Diego's favorite desert destination. Patrick Sampson is president of the Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce and he manages the La Casa del Zorro a resort thinking on behalf of the chamber 140 businesses registered in the town of Borrego springs. The resorts the golf courses are the predominant entities food and beverage wining and dining and the spa industry is also big here. Locally there's 35 hundred permanent residents in Branco springs and then in high season a lot of Snowbird activity second homeowners come back to Borrego springs and the population grows to between 10 and 15000.

One of the biggest challenges in Borrego is businesses surviving during the off season in summer when temperatures soar to upwards of 120 degrees.

When you go from 15 to 20000 people down to 35 hundred a lot of people close so it's an ongoing constant promotion of the destination.

Well let's go in here.

Businesses like California overland rely on the busy season March and April are the big months and then yeah definitely summer tapers off and that's the thing is to build up those shoulder months for it for everybody in town.

BORREGO sits in the middle of a desert and as you might imagine we're facing a challenge with the water situation. There's a handful of citrus and tree farms in Borrego springs. The Borrego water district reports 70 percent of the water in Bracco Springs is used for agriculture. 20 percent is used for recreation including golf courses and hotels and the rest is used by residents.

But there's a problem. The groundwater supply for Borrego is being overdrawn and over the next 20 years. Water usage has to be cut by nearly 75 percent. That is the challenge. It's how do we fit in to the new levels of water.

Production. Sampson hopes there's a solution that will allow the farming and tourism industry to continue operating here.

From the Chamber of Commerce perspective we hope there's room for everyone as they should be the agricultural community is the most threatened by a 70 percent anticipated reduction he says.

If the tourism and farming industry were to leave there would be a drastic ripple effect.

But let's think of the alternative. Without agriculture and without golfing and without a significant role of those businesses in the economy of Borrego Springs where will we be.

This month the Borrego Water District and County of San Diego will release a draft plan on how water levels will need to be reduced over the next two decades.

That Hoffman K PBS news.

Joining me by Skype to talk about the looming water cuts is Jeff Poole general manager of the Borrego Water District.

Welcome Jeff. Hey good morning it's a pleasure to be here.

So you know there was a time when Borrego Springs residents thought that its water supply from an underground aquifer was infinite.

Take a listen to this 1957 promotional video daily pumping from this basin sometimes exceeds that of a city the size of San Diego. After years of such pumping the water table under Borrego shows no signs of overall reduction. Thus giving convincing support. To its long range dependability.

At that time there was a lot of mystery surrounding the aquifer. Now a lot more is known.

It could tell us about that tell us what's know now yeah Boy how times have changed. In 2015 the Oregon Water District in conjunction with the United States Geological Survey conducted a hydrological analysis of the Brigalow springs basin and concluded that the basin is currently in critically overdraft and status which has created some unique challenges for the District.

For a long time there were no limits on water use to talk about how much water was and is being pulled down to that aquifer each year and and who's using the most water.

The current estimates for inflow and outflow within the brigade Springs based on concluded that current agricultural use comprises about 70 percent of total base and extractions and the total basin extraction at this point are estimated to be about six point five billion gallons a year. And then the remaining water is used 20 percent by recreation and then 10 percent by municipal users.

And since this water supply is underground how did you learn that it's being overdrawn.

It's a very sophisticated process to determine the conditions of a underground aquifer primarily because you can't see it in systems where you have lakes and rivers and streams. It's much easier to measure inflows and stream flows in these underground aquifers.

It's much much different and much much more complicated so the results of that study found the community has to cut water use by 75 percent over the next 20 years how has the community responded to that mandate.

That's a very good question. I guess the short answer would be concerned for obvious reasons. A cut of this magnitude could have dramatic impacts upon the community. So the district is taking a proactive approach and as the plan is being developed we've solicited input from the local stakeholder groups to ensure the best we can that their concerns are met as we develop the Groundwater Sustainability Plan and how does this impact the local economy probably the biggest change would be a transition in the labor force. Agriculture currently uses approximately 70 percent of the water so as future pumping restrictions are imposed.

The current logic is water useful transition from agricultural to other uses and so therefore the labor force will have to do the same. And so the district is working closely with the Borrego Village Association on working on some training programs in which we can educate employees that currently work in the agricultural industry and give them the skills needed to transition into other areas of employment.

And you have a report coming out later this month.

How will that guide the process of reducing water use the Groundwater Sustainability Plan will provide the roadmap that will show the specific projects and management actions that will be taken for Rego to become sustainable. In addition the plan will also include the various funding mechanisms that are available and some recommendation on future funding sources and if the community is successful in making these cuts what impact do you see that having on the people who live there. I think it's incumbent upon all of us to do everything we can to minimize those impacts you know exactly what they're going to be.

I think nobody knows for sure we're doing the best we can to project what they are by. We've hired a consultant Dr. Jay Jones to do some work on potential socio economic impact from seventy four point six percent reductions in water use. So we're starting to put some numbers together in terms what the specific impacts to the community will be.

I've been speaking with Jeff Poole general manager of the Borrego Water District Jeff thank you very much.

Thanks for the opportunity.