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Tiny Borrego Springs Agrees to Huge Water Cuts to Guarantee its Survival

Borrego Springs, the small desert town at the entrance to California’s sprawling Anza-Borrego State Park, has won a judge’s approval for an agreement under which large farmers, resort owners and its own water district will slash water use by 74% by 2040. Officials say the cuts are needed to keep the town of 3,000 alive.

More than a dozen major landholders, including ranchers and developers who’ve long grown crops and created lush golf greens in the parched desert by pumping large amounts of water from a rapidly depleting aquifer, signed on to the settlement agreement. Together with the town, their share of water rights total more than 75% of an estimated 24,000 acre-feet of water pumped annually out of the desert floor. Within 19 years, that is required to plummet to about 5,700 acre-feet.

Borrego Air Ranch: A Desert Community in Peril

The survival of a tiny, unique, desert neighborhood is threatened because more than 60 years ago the community decided to form a small water district instead of digging individual wells.

Borrego Air Ranch is built around a private air strip where residents’ garages double as airplane hangers. It’s located on the southeastern outskirts of unincorporated Borrego Springs, less than a mile from Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

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

Although part of San Diego County, Borrego Springs is definitely off the beaten path. The small community is a two-hour drive from downtown San Diego. “The remoteness of ourselves — there’s no freeway coming here,” said Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce President Patrick Sampson, who is also general manager of the La Casa Del Zorro resort. “If you’re going to Borrego Springs — you’re coming to Borrego Springs.”

Fighting Denial in the Face of Water Shortages, Wildfires and Rising Seas

“We’ve been in denial for a long time,” a water official said about Borrego Springs residents coming to terms with a looming water shortage. Those desert folks aren’t alone. Denial about changes and limits in the natural world is running into harsh reality, whether it’s regarding water supply, wildfires or sea-level rise. A cold snap back East or rain in California doesn’t change any of that. While the politically charged debate over climate change rages at high levels, states and local communities are having to deal with its effects. Consensus on solutions is hard to find because, invariably, there are big economic and quality-of-life issues at stake.

OPINION: Borrego Springs’ Water Dilemma Demands County Response

The tiny, remote dot in northeastern San Diego County known as Borrego Springs and its several thousand residents face a daunting task: To survive, they need to ensure they use the same amount of water as the town has in its sole aquifer, which provides declining supplies. Officials expect to have 75 percent less water available by 2040, and they say the town must allow most of its 3,800 acres of citrus and other farms — which use 70 percent to 80 percent of all the community’s groundwater — to fallow. The narrowly defeated Proposition 3, the $8.8 billion state water bond, would have provided $35 million to fallow the farms, which would then become part of adjacent Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Now there’s talk of pursuing a new water bond or seeking help from the Legislature to fallow farms and retrain about 60 farm workers for other jobs.