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Header Photo: Just an average hike on an average day in Red Canyon Country.



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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Price of Oranges and Dates and Golf in Desert Places


During our naive, but glorious "newbie" days, Bobbie and I drifted through innumerable backwater towns throughout the west… from the Mexican border all the way to Canada. Fellow roamers know the kind of towns I speak of, charming, idyllic places that get under your skin and tug the heart. At long last we were free to move about, try on new towns like Imelda Marcos tried on shoes, looking for a good "fit." 


Personally, I was eager to move on. Montrose had been "Californicated," from a pleasant one-stoplight mom and pop shop burg, to a big box" strip mall interspersed with fast food chains. It was exhilarating for me to imagine living someplace new, to start over in unfamiliar territory just like Mo-town was when I landed there at the tender, wet-behind-the-ears age of 26. 

Think you could live here?" I'd ask over and over, wondering if Bobbie felt any "tugs." I realize now, of course, that God made Women to counterbalance men like me… the kind of guy that would drive off in search of a pretty sunset never to be heard from again. "Wonder whatever happened to Whats-his-name?" 

Borrego Springs, California could have been one of those "Pretty Sunset" towns—seasonally, anyway. Aw, typical male, all infatuated on the "first date," beguiled by a little lipstick and cleavage. I mean, that's the rap on finding "Paradise," isn't it? Seasonal. Excluding the temperate isles of our 50th state, I have yet to find one single place that isn't "seasonal." It's either too hot in the summer or too cold in the winter or too rainy or too dry… bla bla bla. This is why everyone needs an RV… an "escape mechanism," you know, for after the "make up" wears off and the cleavage is ho hum.  



Borrego Springs remains a small town; no chain fast food joints, no stoplights, no freeways nearby… moderate winter weather. Still "promiscuous" after all these years, she charmed me in her own "sweet desert" way. To my surprise, Borrego Springs checked most of my "boxes," especially the "in the middle of nowhere" one. I like the idea of being only a couple of hours from the Pacific and other parts of California I have yet to explore.  

So here's this little oasis in the desert, all "made up" (green), surrounded by charred mountains and guttered badlands reminiscent of desolate scenes found those Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Westerns in his early "glare and mumble" days. But for the miracle of spring water and power lines, not even the most committed desert rat could abide such a place as Borrego Springs. 



Development in western deserts seldom lags far behind the discovery of water. Waterless as most deserts are, it is, in a way, a natural defense mechanism to keep moneychangers at bay, those who lie in wait to subdivide raw land into "surf and turf" country clubs with lookalike Mediterranean style homes lining the links. Then the scum-bastards put in place exorbitant HOA dues to further line their greedy pockets forever and forever. 



So, Borrego Springs is blessed/cursed with water, enough to supply the residential taps of a city of 30,000 people, year in and year out. But not all that glitters green is money, especially in dry desert places. This has led to a "chicken or egg" type of argument… a circular one where residents, country clubs (golf courses), citrus farmers, and date palm growers keep tossing the "hot potato," and can't agree on how to address the ever-shrinking water table problem. 



Wiki says the population of Boreggo Springs increased 35 percent from census 2000 to 2010, from 2535 residents to 3429. However, a recent mini census in 2014 estimated that the population had decreased to 2456 residents. What's up with that? Could it be the "dirty little secret" is out, that Borrego Springs is a ticking time bomb when it comes to water?



Now I like oranges and dates as much as anyone, and can appreciate that it takes a lot of water to grow such yummy treats. I can also understand the appeal of living in a house along one of the four (count 'em, 4) golf courses with expansive green lawns, and that it takes water to keep them from reverting to sand and dirt and weeds. But what I can't understand is the "stick your head in the sand" attitude of the "players" in what is on the verge of becoming a big, big problem. 


Here, in a "nutshell," is the "big" problem. I'll let you decide who the "enemy" is.

Borrego Springs gets 100% of it's water from the Borrego Springs Valley Aquifer beneath the valley floor. This incredible natural resource is what makes life possible in one of the driest and otherwise inhospitable places on earth. Citrus and date farms sprung up around town way back when water was considered "eternal," followed by "planned communities" with golf courses and sunny retirement living. Snowbirds flock to such places, especially when there are golf courses—miles and miles of lush green carpet to keep them entertained and out of trouble.


However…  

It appears that the Borrego Springs Aquifer has been in a state of "unsustainable overdraft" for over 60 years. The breakdown of water use is as follows:

  • Agriculture 70%
  • Golf Courses 20%
  • Residential 10%
So who's to blame? Who's lifestyle/livelihood would you target? Residential use has been shown to be well within the annual natural recharge rate. Resident's water use would hardly contribute to the problem… if not for pesky golf courses.

Knowing we would be indulging in iniquitous food and beverage all afternoon, Bobbie and I took a long walk around western Borrego Springs on Super Bowl Sunday morning. The neighborhoods were older and modest. Then we reached a gated community that abutted the mountains. It had "Keep Out, Members Only, No Trespassing" signs everywhere. Behind the gates was another world… tall palms swayed in the hot desert breeze; manicured fairways beaconed; lush dark green grass sparkled with droplets of water; blue lakes with fountains gushed skyward, all surrounded with immodest homes and vehicles. 

I turned to Bobbie, "Fuck'em. I need some shade." We let ourselves in. 





It was "Sun City West." Seniors took turns whacking little white balls then climbed into electric carts to chase them down. I'm not sure where the exercise is when one drives a ball, then drives a cart to fetch it. But hey, that's just me. 

Finally we spied a group without carts who were noticeably slimmer and fit looking. When they crossed the road in front of us, it was the strangest thing.


As they walked, little three wheeled "Segway" like vehicles carried their golf club bags… following along behind like a pet dog. Well, at least they were walking… 


I was pretty sure Security was going to bust us any second, but continued to explore anyway. People were friendly, said "Good morning; Beautiful day…" And they were right. What a life. With all that grass and water and shade, it felt at least 10 degrees cooler behind "the gates."

I digress… Back to the "big problem."  

Scientists from the California Department of Water Resources and the U. S. Geological Survey agree that at current rates of withdrawal Borrego Spring's precious aquifer will dry up in less than 50 years. Already there are water quality problems; as water levels drop, pollutants/minerals become more concentrated.

Millions upon millions of dollars have been thrown at the problem. But, unlike dirty under ware, nothing seems to "stick" to "the wall." Borrego Springs continues down a fast-track road to oblivion, this in spite of all the "science" that says the aquifer is being drawn down at a rate 5 times "recharge." The primary offenders (if I can use that word)… the citrus and date farmers along with the golf course owners… refuse to compromise. Their livelihoods are at stake. 

I would imagine that the water shortage problem, at some point, if not already, will/is negatively impact(ing) real estate values. Perhaps that explains the sudden decrease in population from 2010 to 2014. Once word of the water shortage gets out, well… would you buy? 

14 comments:

  1. Thanks, Mark, for a thoughtful post about our "Cadillac Desert". Water is the new oil and all that. I have such a hard time with the golf courses in the desert southwest. Dates, oranges, even houses would last a lot longer without those vast expanses of green that belong only in Minnesota.

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  2. Those types of golf courses are a joke. A golf course can use about 85% less water when it is "naturalized". To me the naturalized courses are a lot more fun. Yard grass is 100% waste to me also.

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  3. it is an ongoing problem, we go there for the desert like you and enjoy quiet scenery and natural landscape, the golf courses seem out of place.

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  4. You expressed my thoughts to a tee. I just didn't know the proper words to express the situation nearly as well as you. I think the mindset is "we won't be here, so why give a ****?" So sad.

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  5. Difficult questions, and no easy answers, that's for sure. I'm always dismayed when I see enormous expanses of golf courses in the desert. Seems like we shouldn't be living or farming or golfing anywhere that doesn't have a natural water supply that can sustain our lifestyles. Then again, RV'ing isn't really sustainable, given the dwindling resources (and myriad problems) of fossil fuels. Nonetheless, it's our chosen lifestyle. The alternative is to stay home and walk and bike everywhere (we actually have a couple of friends who do this). We're not quite so pure. Sigh.

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  6. Another one of the larger water slurpers in California is Almond growers -- 80% of which are exported. These are the times when government must intervene to protect the best interests of the many. As long as the wealthy few are permitted to prevail, they'll slurp up every last drop and will not shut off their irrigation taps until nothing comes out but dusty air. Even then, they'll be more likely to leave the tap open and drive away in their air-conditioned luxury car -- having recouped all their up-front investment (plus interest) decades ago.

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  7. I despise golf courses and they DO waste water. Here in Palm Desert, I believe it is Monterey Country Club which has a golf course going down into the wash. I drive by it every morning. Their sprinklers are ALWAYS on...even on rainy days! Enough already!

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  8. Again, you make me chuckle about issues that really piss me off! It's all about balance and you do it so well.

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  9. ...we can live forever without dates, oranges, and golf courses... convincing everyone of that would be near impossible!

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  10. Good hearing about AB Mark, your shots due it justice. Al & I visited there in 2000 on our way to see the poppies in Antelope Valley. Not surprised that their water is about to run out we wondered then WHY? would anyone live their. Now our water in Northern Calif may run out some day if this drought goes on say like for 10 years or more as it has in the past.
    Just hope you are in a WiFi hot location and get this post as I have been unsuccessful in the last month so planning a visit to Apple tomorrow.
    Stay Thirsty My Friend
    Sonoma Co Guys

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  11. Good hearing about AB Mark, your shots due it justice. Al & I visited there in 2000 on our way to see the poppies in Antelope Valley. Not surprised that their water is about to run out we wondered then WHY? would anyone live their. Now our water in Northern Calif may run out some day if this drought goes on say like for 10 years or more as it has in the past.
    Just hope you are in a WiFi hot location and get this post as I have been unsuccessful in the last month so planning a visit to Apple tomorrow.
    Stay Thirsty My Friend
    Sonoma Co Guys

    ReplyDelete
  12. So typical of society today - each man for himself without thought of how it affects society overall, consequences. I enjoy the beauty of the desert - it is different - so better to go with the natural plants than plant that green grass where it doesn't belong.

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  13. Yup, there is a problem which will not go away. The problem isn't in Borrego Springs only, but expands all over southern and mid CA, stretching into Nevada as well. Seen the water levels behind the Hoover dam lately? We've seen it over a span of more than 15 years again and again. Every time we came it was a lot lower. Same can be seen at Lake Powell farther up-river.

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  14. Your Header Photo is nice but I can not believe that it is of Mission Beach as labeled. Although I can believe you have been there sometime during the past 10 days.

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