Newberry Community Meeting Held For
Baja Areawide Sustainability Plan -
Public Opinion Turning Against Farmers

A packed house filled the Newberry Springs Family Center for the water meeting.

Posted September 19, 2014


    All seats and tables were filled with attendees at the Baja Areawide Sustainability Plan meeting on water at the Newberry Springs Family Center on Wednesday, September 17, 2014.

    The event was hosted by the Mojave Desert Resource Conservation District which had governmental guest speakers that explained the compilation of data used in the still developing district's plan for water conservation.  The presentations centered upon agriculture as it represents the largest ground water pumpers responsible for the unsustainable pumping in the Mojave Valley basin.

    Based upon public input from four previous public meetings, research, and consultants, three tiers of alternative conservation methods were introduced at the meeting as possibilities for implementation; and discussion was given how each could be implemented.

    High on the 'Tier 1: Implement Soon' list is a water rights buyout proposal.  This raised a question if this proposal could be the driving force for a number of fallow fields in Newberry Springs suddenly being placed back into production.  The buyout of water rights will logically first go to the active pumping fields; and with limited purchase funds being initially available, are the reestablishment of fields now chasing the buyout money.

    Is the buyout scheme a driving force for greater pumping?  To discourage this growing trend, should any field reesablished after 2013 be placed at the end of the buyout list?  Such would appear reasonable to deter increased pumping.

Key court Judgment is not being followed.

    Under the court ordered adjudication of pumping rights, the matter appeared to be well understood by the Superior Court under Judge Erik Michael Kaiser who took the time to visit Newberry Springs and speak with the community.  After Judge Kaiser's retirement, the adjudication is now being supervised by Judge Gloria Connor Trask.  Each year after submission of documents from the Mojave Water Agency (MWA) and other interested parties to her, she holds an annual court session to rule on rampdown adjustments.

    At this time, the MWA, Fish & Game, and others annually appear before her.  The farmers usually have people in attendance.  Coming dressed like pauperized Dust Bowl dirt farmers, the farmers annually seek relief from pumping rampdowns.

    When the judge does order a decrease in pumping, it is usually 2.5-percent.  Under Judge Kaiser, the first four rampdowns were at 5-percent.  Since, the rampdowns have been at 2.5, with the current rampdown level now at 55-percent.  This hasn't been sufficient to stop a continuing decline in the water table.  What won't be helping is the reactivation of unjudicated fallow fields.

    The fault of a working solution appears to lay at the door of Judge Trask.  She has failed to enforce the ruling under a Judgment After Trial by Judge Kaiser filed on January 10, 1996. 

    In that ruling, under EXHIBIT H, rampdowns are to be based upon two riparian habitat monitoring wells located in the Harvard/Eastern Baja Surface Water Habitat Zone identified as well numbers H3-1 and H3-2.  Included under the judgement,

2. Protection Pursuant to Physical Solution
"The following aspects of the Physical Solution must be implemented to seek to achieve the water table standards set forth in Table H-2 which were proposed by DFG as being necessary to maintain and converse the riparian resources in the areas shown on Figure H-1:

a.  Pursuant to Paragraph 24(o) of the Judgment, the Watermaster in recommending an adjustment in Free Production Allowance, shall compare the Free Production Allowance with the estimated Production Safe Yield.  In the event the Free Production Allowance exceeds the estimated Production Safe Yield by five percent or more, Watermaster shall recommend a reduction of the Free Production Allowance equal to a full five percent of the aggregate Subarea Base Annual Production."

    Although the above is only a portion of Exhibit H, the gist of the ruling is that each year that there is a deficiency of 5-percent or more, a mandatory five-percent additional rampdown "shall" be recommended by the Watermaster to the court.  This tough-love by Judge Kaiser appears to be the only serious measure to reverse the continuing ground water depletion that continues today.

    Unfortunately, the MWA has not followed the Judgment, be it for politics or other measures required in EXHIBIT H.  The current court appears to be avoiding EXHIBIT H, perhaps trying to find an equitable solution for the farmers.

    Pussyfooting around the problem doesn't solve it.  There is no equitable solution for the farmers.  By their unsustainable pumping, the farmers have created the problem.

Public opinion has turned against the farmers.

    Previous support for the farmers' water plight has taken a severe nosedrive.  Despite the wealth created by Newberry Springs farming, the farmers have given little back to the community; except to deplete the ground water that has cost some residents tens of thousands of dollars to dig deeper wells.

    To demonstrate a further lack of their concern for Newberry Springs, some farmers are now contaminating their fields with toxins contained in their fertilizer material, urban sewage sludge from Nursery Products in Hinkley, California.  Toxins that are now leaching into the groundwater.  Nothing is more important for survival in the desert than water, and the farmers are depleting and contaminating it.

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