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Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy

November 2020

Pipe Dreams

“Oh, what a wonderous thing—all the free water we could want in the middle of the desert. Brought to us by that beneficent colossus of water, the San Diego County Water Authority. We can have more golf courses, green farms will carpet the valley, businesses will bloom, and Borrego will at last become San Diego’s Palm Springs,” some in Borrego might muse.

“Oh, what a wonderous thing—to be free at last of the avaricious grip of the Metropolitan Water District, that malicious monopoly of water transport that gouges us egregiously to move our Colorado River water through their pipes! With our own pipe to the Colorado River we will finally be free of their chokehold,” dream some at the San Diego County Water Authority.

But these glittering pipe dreams are very different from the harsh reality of the Regional Conveyance System (RCS) being proposed by the San Diego County Water Authority and described previously in these pages (“Chinatown” comes to Borrego, The Borrego Sun, September 15, 2020). The reality is that the RCS is an enormous industrial-scale construction project that would forever change and degrade the character of the Borrego Valley, and that Borrego Springs is a pawn in the decades old struggle between the titans of water in southern California — the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) and the San Diego County Water Authority (CWA).

Background

Through the Quantification Settlement Agreement of 2003 the CWA secured the rights to 280,000 acre feet per year (AFY) of Colorado River water, a sizeable portion of the 450,000 AFY it wholesales to its 24 Member Agencies. The problem for the CWA is that its Colorado River water is transported to San Diego through pipes owned by the MWD … for a price. The current wholesale rate for transporting Colorado River water through MWD pipes to San Diego is $482/acre foot, or about $135 Million Dollars per year, when/if the CWA receives its full allotment of water. Thus, CWA’s dream of having their own pipe.

In June 2019 the CWA took the first step toward making its pipe dream a reality when it authorized $3.9 Million Dollars for a two-phase study of the feasibility of building its own pipe from the Colorado River to San Diego. The first phase of the study—Phase A—was released in August 2020 and identified a route that passes through the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and the community of Borrego Springs—the “Northern Alignment,” or Route 3A—as the preferred route because it would be cheaper to operate than other routes that do not go through the State Park or Borrego Springs. Route 3A begins near the Salton Sea and passes through the State Park and Borrego Springs before entering a 47-mile-long tunnel to the CWA’s Twin Oaks facility near Escondido.

The Hook

The CWA would like to attract “partners” to share some of the cost of the project. The Phase A report identifies Borrego Springs as one of those potential partners and mentions the possibility of building the RCS big enough to accommodate 20,000 AFY of water for Borrego Springs. The prospect of getting Colorado River water has caused a few in Borrego to have pipe dreams of their own.

Borrego becomes an Industrial Construction Site

Far from the beautiful dream of a verdant Borrego Valley awash in plentiful, cheap water, the RCS would transform Borrego into an industrial construction site for 15 years. The authors of the RCS report estimate it would take 25 years to complete this project—10 years for planning, permitting, and land acquisition and 15 years for construction. If the RCS were to be built along Route 3A, much, if not the majority, of the construction would occur in the Borrego Valley.

Borrego’s transformation into an industrial construction site would begin with the digging of a trench from near the south end of the Salton Sea to Tubb Canyon (Fig. 1), or to Palm Canyon (Fig. 2), or to Glorietta Canyon (Fig. 3), or to Rams Hill (Figure 4). This trench would be 38 miles long, 20 feet deep, and a “minimum width” of 35 feet. The trench would contain a pressurized pipe 8.5 feet in diameter. Miles of this trench would pass through the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park before entering the community of Borrego Springs.

Large quantity of bagged Sahara Mustard

Figure 1 showing Tunnel Portal located in Tubb Canyon area.

Large quantity of bagged Sahara Mustard

Figure 2 showing Tunnel Portal and Pumping Station in Palm Canyon area.

Large quantity of bagged Sahara Mustard

Figure 3 showing Tunnel Portal and Pumping Station in Glorietta Canyon area.

Large quantity of bagged Sahara Mustard

Figure 4 showing tunnel portal and pump station between Rams Hill and Casa del Zorro.

Once at Tubb, Palm, or Glorietta Canyon, or at Rams Hill, the next section of the RCS would be a tunnel 14 feet in diameter that would extend for 47 miles under the Coastal Mountain Range to a CWA facility near Escondido. Digging this tunnel would produce approximately 1.5 million cubic yards of rock waste. The authors of the Phase A report propose to truck this waste to the Salton Sea. Transporting 1.5 million cubic yards of rock waste through Borrego would require one dump truck rumbling through town every hour of every day and every night for 13.5 years.

Because the RCS would be pumping water uphill from the Salton Sea to San Diego, it would require three enormous pumping stations, one of which would be in Borrego Springs. (Figs. 1-4) The pumping station in Borrego would have its own electrical substation and would occupy a 10-acre site, of which 4 acres would be a forebay, or pond, to store water before it is pumped into the tunnel. The pump house itself would be by far the largest building in Borrego. It would house four 12,500 horsepower pumps that would run night and day sending water to San Diego.

Because Borrego doesn’t have enough electricity to power such a pumping station, a 230 kV powerline would have to be built to bring electricity to Borrego from the outside. This new line would transect the Park like the Sunrise Powerlink proposed to do over a decade ago.

J. David Garmon, MD
President, TCDC

 

The Cost of Colorado River Water

The CWA is not a charitable organization. It is not in the business of giving away water, nor is it in the business of transporting water for free. The Phase A report is explicit that Borrego would have to find “a third party” willing to sell 20,000 AF of Colorado River water. Because the Colorado River is over-allocated and because Climate Change is expected to reduce the annual flow of the Colorado River, senior rights to Colorado River water are not available and junior rights are not reliable over the 40-50 year time frame Borrego would need. Nevertheless, if water rights to 20,000AFY could be purchased, the price would be in the range of $10-30M per year. Additionally, Borrego would have to pay CWA to transport this water through the RCS at a cost estimated to be in the $5-10M per year range.

Because Colorado River water is of such poor quality compared to the water from our aquifer, Borrego would have to build, pay for, and treat it at a new multimillion dollar water treatment facility before it could be put into the Borrego Water District’s existing distribution pipes. Alternatively, this essentially non-potable River water could be distributed to farms and golf courses through a new distribution system that could be built at the cost of many millions of dollars.

So, Borrego would be looking at capital costs of $5-10M for either a new water treatment plant or an alternative distribution system for the River water. These capital costs would be in addition to the $15-40M required annually to purchase and transport 20,000AF of Colorado River water.

Time Frame

If Borrego were to endure the environmental devastation this industrial construction would bring to the Park and to the community … if Borrego could pay tens of millions of dollars annually to purchase and transport Colorado River water … if Borrego could spend millions of dollars to make Colorado River water usable … the RCS would not deliver the first drop of water to Borrego until 2047, which is seven years after Borrego will have reduced its water consumption to its “sustainable yield” of 5,700 AFY, as mandated by the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014.

The Path to Sustainability

Because of its geographically fortuitous location in the middle of a thousand square miles of wilderness, Borrego can thrive and compete as a destination community and preserve its special ‘sense of place’ without selling out to anyone’s pipe dream. Borrego has already begun implementing its plan—the Stipulated Agreement—to achieve water sustainability. Borrego’s wells are now metered, a Watermaster Board has been empaneled, and the lawsuit required to enforce the Stipulated Agreement has been initiated. The Stipulated Agreement is a workable plan that provides enough water for recreation and accommodates reasonable population and economic growth for our town’s future.

Future Menace

At its November 19, 2020 Board meeting, the CWA received a preponderance of public comment, both from civic leaders in Borrego and from rate payers in San Diego, opposing further expenditure of taxpayer money to study the RCS proposal. Nevertheless, the motion to spend an additional $1.3M to fund Phase B of the study passed by one vote. Staff of the CWA have 12-18 months to complete Phase B.

September 2020

Tubb Canyon in the crosshairs … again

Once again, the Tubb Canyon neighborhood is in the crosshairs of a major San Diego utility. This time it is the San Diego County Water Authority (CWA). During the last year the CWA has spent approximately $2 million to study the feasibility of building a Regional Conveyance System (RCS) that would transport water from the Colorado River to San Diego (Fig. 1). The Phase A report, published June 2020, recommended eliminating the alternative route near the Mexican border, the Southern Alignment (5C), and identified the Northern Alignment (3A) as the preferred route (Fig. 1). The preferred route would consist of 46 miles of canal, 39 miles of pipeline, and 46 miles of tunnel that would pass through and under the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (ABDSP) and the community of Borrego Springs. Cost estimates for this project are $5-6 Billion, and the construction, which would not begin before 2031, is estimated to take 15 years.

Large quantity of bagged Sahara Mustard

Figure 1

The preferred Northern Alignment (3A) route passes through the State Park, through the community of Borrego Springs, up Tubb Canyon Rd, to a “tunnel portal” in Tubb Canyon. From the Tubb Canyon Portal a tunnel 14 feet in diameter would travel 46 miles under the Pinyon Ridge Wilderness area to the CWA’s Twin Oak facility near Escondido. A massive pumping station would be constructed in the vicinity of Tubb and Glorietta Canyons (Figs. 2 and 3).

Large quantity of bagged Sahara Mustard

Figure 2

Large quantity of bagged Sahara Mustard

Figure 3

The Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy (TCDC) opposes the proposed Northern Alignment (3A) route of the RCS for myriad reasons— both regional and local. Regionally, TCDC shares the concerns described in the Member Agency’s Managers Group report of July 2020—that the project is not cost competitive and that the CWA’s Phase A report employed highly implausible economic assumptions. Additional regional concerns about the RCS include: 1) environmental constraints create “fatal flaws” that will prevent this project from traversing the State Park just as they did the Sunrise Powerlink 2) the project provides no new water for San Diego, but simply creates a different pipe by which to obtain the water that already flows to San Diego, 3) the project will saddle the next three generations of San Diego ratepayers with exorbitant and unnecessary debt, 4) the proposed route would cross six active fault lines, 5) sending water over the proposed route would take 40% more energy than the conveyance system currently in use, 6) the increased energy use would increase San Diego’s greenhouse gas emissions, 7) the proposed route impinges upon the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, the Cleveland National Forest, the community of Borrego Springs, and 8) the proposed route potentially impacts groundwater resources near the San Pasqual Indian Reservation

On a local level, TCDC has concerns that are specific to the ABDSP, the community of Borrego Springs, and the Tubb Canyon region. Chief among these concerns is that the 1000 square miles that compose the Park and the Community are not industrial. They are predominantly state-designated wilderness area; and, as such, these 1000 square miles provide a valuable, irreplaceable, and irreproducible service to the citizens of San Diego County, Southern California, and neighboring states. Visitors have come, and will come again after the pandemic, from around the world to experience the vastness of the Park and its undisturbed vistas. The inevitable disruptions of a massive industrial project like the RCS to the uninterrupted majesty of pristine desert landscape would be antithetical to the identity of what we are as a community.

Because of its geographic location in the center of the ABDSP, Borrego Springs is surrounded on all sides by the State Park and is uniquely positioned to transition its economy to ecotourism, which it has been doing for the past five years under the rubric of the National Geographic-inspired Geotourism Program currently being implemented by the Borrego Village Association. The community of Borrego Springs knows it must reduce its water consumption by 75% by 2040, which means it can no longer depend on local agriculture and residential development as economic drivers. Thus, TCDC is concerned that an industrial project of the scale of the proposed RCS would be detrimental to the undisturbed wilderness that is the basis of Borrego’s ecotourism initiative and, therefore, detrimental to our critical economic pivot.

Finally, the Borrego community has worked diligently for nearly a decade to create a plan to address our overdrafted aquifer. Our Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) was the first in the state to be presented to the Department of Water Resources. We are in the final stages of a Stipulated Agreement that will implement our GSP through our newly created Watermaster Board. This is to say that we have a plan for achieving water sustainability for our community by 2040 without sacrificing the wilderness that surrounds us and is the draw for a tourism economy that will sustain us into the future. And Borrego will achieve water sustainability at least 5 years before the RCS could be completed. Thus, the proposed RCS would have no impact on the necessity to reduce our water consumption by 75% by 2040.

For all these reasons, TCDC will continue in its efforts to provide information to the Board of the San Diego County Water Authority demonstrating the folly of attempting to site this industrial scale utility project through the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and the community of Borrego Springs.

J. David Garmon, MD
President, TCDC

 

October 2019

Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy wins Cal-IPC Policy Award for Sahara Mustard Biocontrol Program

Riverside, CA, October 16, 2019 --- The Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy (TCDC) is this year’s recipient of the California Invasive Plant Council’s (Cal-IPC) Policy Award. This award is presented “for exceptional contributions to invasive plant management and the protection of California ecosystems.” The presentation was made during Cal-IPC’s annual meeting which was held this year at the Riverside Convention Center.

Doug Johnson, Executive Director of Cal-IPC, said TCDC was selected as the recipient of the Policy Award because of TCDC’s program to combat the spread of Sahara mustard in the deserts of California and the American Southwest. Mr. Johnson said, “TCDC’s effort is an exceptional program that has successfully combined cutting-edge science with focused policy advocacy on the federal level.”

In 2014, TCDC launched a multi-year, three-phase program to find a safe and effective biocontrol agent capable of addressing the invasion of Sahara mustard in the United States. Using the latest DNA sequencing techniques, and in partnership with the University of California, Irvine and the USDA’s European Biologic Control Laboratory (EBCL) in Montpellier, France, TCDC’s program has identified the precise locations around the Mediterranean Sea where the specific populations of Sahara mustard that have invaded the United States originated.

Building upon the success of the first phases of the program, in 2019 TCDC coordinated the support of stakeholders from across the southwestern United States who are also confronting the threat of Sahara mustard. These stakeholders—State and National Parks, academic institutions, non-governmental organizations, and governmental agencies—wrote letters and contacted their congressional representatives to request that the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) complete TCDC’s biocontrol program as part of its 2020-2025 Action Plan (Borrego Sun, August 8, 2019). On August 19, 2019, in a letter to ten members of the United States House of Representatives, the director of ARS confirmed her agency would complete the scientific studies as requested (Borrego Sun, September 19, 2019).

Accepting the 2019 Policy Award, TCDC President J. David Garmon, M.D. expressed his appreciation for the individuals and organizations who have supported this effort to combat Sahara mustard: “They say it takes a village to raise a child. I would add that it also takes a village, or two, to impact policy decisions at the federal level. Without the support of generous donors like Audrey Steele Burnand and the Borrego Valley Endowment Fund, brilliant scientists at UCI and the EBCL, and engaged members of Congress like Susan Davis, we would never have come this far in combatting one of the most dire threats to desert ecosystems in the American Southwest.”

 

August 2019

USDA-ARS Administrator Commits to TCDC Effort to Control Sahara Mustard

Washington DC, August 19, 2019—In a letter to ten members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young, Administrator of the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS), committed her organization to “include studies on identifying and assessing potential biocontrol agents that can be used for Sahara mustard mitigation and eradication” as part of ARS’s upcoming 2020-2025 Action Plan. In her letter Dr. Jacobs-Young identifies the European Biological Control Laboratory (EBCL) in Montpelier, France as the ideal location for these studies to take place because “Sahara mustard is native to this region and has not to date developed invasive characteristics that threaten its native ecosystem, which suggests natural predators already play a role in keeping it in check.”

Dr. Jacobs-Young’s letter was in response to a July 26, 2019 letter sent to her by ten members of the U.S. House of Representatives—five members from California, five members from Arizona, and all from districts threatened by the invasion of Sahara Mustard. In their letter, these congressional representatives requested ARS find a biocontrol agent for Sahara Mustard as part of its 2020-2025 Action Plan.

The studies Dr. Jacobs-Young agreed to include in ARS’s 2020-2025 Action Plan are Phase III of a multi-year, three-phase effort initiated by the Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy (TCDC) in 2014. Phases I and II have been completed. They used next-generation, high throughput DNA sequencing to identify specific locations in Sahara Mustard’s native range around the Mediterranean in which to search for biocontrol agents that are most likely to be effective against the particular populations of Sahara Mustard that have invaded the United States.

In response to Dr. Jacobs-Young’s letter, David Garmon, President of TCDC noted the importance of USDA-ARS’s participation in this effort: “In partnership with the University of California, Irvine and EBCL we were able to complete the first two phases of this project, but only USDA-ARS has the scientific expertise, the decades of experience, the safety protocols, and the biocontainment laboratories necessary to complete this third and final phase. With ARS now committed to our project we have maximized the chances of finding a safe and effective biocontrol agent against Sahara Mustard.”

J. David Garmon, MD
President, TCDC

 

Summer 2019

TCDC Wins Bipartisan Congressional Support in fight against Sahara Mustard

Washington DC—Friday, July 26, 2019. Ten members of the United States House of Representatives signed a letter in support of the Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy’s (TCDC’s) multi-year project to discover a biocontrol agent that will be safe and effective in stopping the spread of Sahara Mustard (Brassica tournefortii), one of the most destructive invasive weeds in the southwestern United States. This congressional letter directs the leadership of the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) to dedicate sufficient funding and human resources to complete the biocontrol project during ARS’s upcoming 2020-2025 Action Plan.

San Diego Representative Susan Davis took the lead in circulating the letter among Democratic and Republican colleagues in the House whose districts are impacted by Sahara Mustard. Representatives signing the letter were: Susan Davis (CA-53), Paul Cook (CA-8), Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ-2), Raul Grijalva (AZ-3), Katie Porter (CA-45), Duncan Hunter (CA-50), Salud Carbajal (CA-24), Ruben Gallego (AZ-7), Greg Stanton (AZ-9), and Tom O’Halleran (AZ-1).

(The full text of the congressional letter)

“Achieving congressional support for TCDC’s project was a distant dream in 2014 when we began what we knew would be at least a 10-year effort,” said David Garmon, M.D., President of Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy. Garmon added, “Because Sahara Mustard’s destructive impact is being felt across the entire desert Southwest, we were joined in our effort to educate politicians about this ecosystem-level menace by dozens of organizations from around the region—State and National Parks, governmental agencies, non-governmental organizations, and academic institutions. We would not have been able to attain this milestone of a congressional letter without Letters of Support from all of these organizations along with their own outreach efforts to their individual representatives.” (Letters of Support).

In 2014 Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy published a White Paper outlining a scientific methodology for the discovery of a safe and effective biocontrol agent capable of stemming the spread of Sahara Mustard across the deserts of the American Southwest and northern Mexico. Rather than using the traditional trial-and-error method, TCDC’s approach uses the latest genomic sequencing techniques to determine precisely where in Sahara Mustard’s extensive native range it would be most effective to search for natural biocontrol agents. Potential biocontrol agents—the predators and / or pathogens against Sahara Mustard—from these precise locations would be the agents most likely to be safe and effective against the three genetically distinct populations of Sahara Mustard that were introduced into the U.S. during the 20th century.

The letter signed by House Representatives directs USDA scientists to travel to those precise locations around the Mediterranean and in the Middle East that were identified in the first two phases of the TCDC project. In those specific locations where the Sahara Mustard now in the U.S. originated, scientists will identify the “natural enemies” of the three genetically distinct populations of Sahara Mustard that have invaded the U.S. Once identified, candidate biocontrol agents will be subjected to several years of safety and efficacy testing in special USDA biocontainment laboratories in Europe. Promising candidates will eventually be brought to USDA biocontainment labs in the U.S. for further safety and efficacy testing prior to release into the environment.

“Because Sahara Mustard is spread over millions of acres across the deserts of the American Southwest, manual eradication or using herbicides could never rid us of this destructive weed, except in a few small, constantly surveilled, high-value areas. The only possible hope of addressing this ecosystem-level threat is with a biocontrol agent that can be safely released into the environment,” said Robert Staehle, Vice President, TCDC. “That is why our effort to find a biocontrol agent is critical to the ecological health of broad portions of the Southwest, particularly our vulnerable desert and coastal dune ecosystems.”

Lori Paul, TCDC Director added, “We are grateful for the generous support of so many friends and neighbors who have made this project possible. We would not be at the halfway point in this project without the original seed-funding generously provided by Audrey Steele Burnand and the support provided by the Borrego Valley Endowment Fund for recent congressional outreach efforts.”

J. David Garmon, MD
President, TCDC

 

Sahara Mustard

When the neighbors on Tubb Canyon Bajada came together in 2011 to do battle with Sahara Mustard (Brassica tournefortii), it was not immediately clear what would be required to protect pristine desert habitat from this aggressive foreign invader. We began by manually removing as many Sahara mustard plants from as many acres as we could, and then surveilling those acres every winter and spring. These efforts have resulted in many acres of pristine dessert habitat in southwest Borrego Valley that are now free of Sahara Mustard; however, the problem turned out to be much larger than we knew.

Large quantity of bagged Sahara Mustard

Bags of Sahara mustard from the Tubb Canyon Bajada delivered to the Sahara Mustard dumpster formerly provided at the Headquarters of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park on March 27, 2011.

By 2013 we learned that in the century since its accidental introduction in the arid, date-growing Coachella Valley of California, Sahara Mustard had spread up the California coast, as far north as San Luis Obispo County; eastward across Arizona, and New Mexico to west Texas; and from southern Nevada and Utah southward into central Mexico. We learned that with this broad extent of dispersal, manual eradication and herbicides would never be effective in ridding the deserts of the American Southwest of this destroyer of native vegetation. We learned that Sahara mustard was an ecosystem-level problem and concluded that the only feasible solution for solving a problem of this scale would be the development of a biocontrol agent — a natural predator against Sahara Mustard—that could be safely released into the environment of the southwestern United States to stop, and hopefully reverse, Sahara Mustard’s expansion and destruction of fragile habitat and biodiversity.

With the goal of discovering a biocontrol agent, we partnered in 2014 with researchers from the University of California, Irvine to map a course toward the discovery of such a biocontrol agent. This effort would make use of the latest genome sequencing technology to shave years and millions of dollars of cost off the project. The course we plotted is described in our White Paper titled “Seeking Biocontrols to Enable a Long-term Solution for Sahara Mustard (Brassica tournefortii) Invasion in North American Deserts.”

Phase I of the project began in 2015 and consisted of genomic sequencing hundreds of Sahara Mustard samples taken from throughout the southwestern United States. Completion of Phase I demonstrated three distinct populations of Sahara Mustard in the deserts of the Southwest, and thus three distinct introductions of this invader from the Old World. Phase I was the doctoral work of Daniel Winkler, Ph.D. and was published in Ecology and Evolution in June 2019 under the title “Multiple Introductions and population structure during the rapid expansion of the invasive Sahara Mustard (Brassica tournefortii).”

Dr. Winkler, in concert with colleagues at the USDA’s European Biologic Control Laboratory in Montpellier, France, are nearing the completion of Phase II of the project. Phase II involves the genomic analysis of samples of Sahara Mustard from its native range around the Mediterranean and into the Near East. Comparing the results of Phase II with those of Phase I will reveal exactly where in its native range the Sahara Mustard that was introduced into the United States in the early 1900’s came from. The importance of this discovery is that it will remove the guess work of where to look in Sahara Mustard’s enormous native range for potential predators already adapted to keep Sahara Mustard in check.

With the foundational work nearly completed, and with dozens of Parks, NGO’s, agencies, and academic institutions attesting to the importance of discovering a biocontrol agent for Sahara Mustard (http://bit.ly/2IB5aBw), in June 2019 the USDA deemed Sahara Mustard to be a priority in its 2020-2025 Action Plan. Such a designation sets the stage for the third and final phase of our program: the identification of potential pathogen(s) and/or predators against Sahara Mustard from its native range, and the testing of these potential pathogen(s) and/or predators for safety and efficacy for future release in order to suppress the epidemic of Sahara Mustard in the deserts of the American Southwest.

While the identification and testing of potential pathogens against Sahara Mustard will take several more years, we are more than half way to our goal of discovering a way of confronting Sahara Mustard on an ecosystem level. None of this would have been possible without our brilliant and tenacious researchers and our generous supporters. I give my heartfelt thanks to everyone who has worked so diligently to get us this far. Please stay tuned and involved in the continuation of this important project!

J. David Garmon, MD
President, TCDC

Summer 2018

Borrego Wins Battle of Rudyville

Before an overflow crowd, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors delivered the knockout punch to Rudyville in a 3-2 vote at their September 12th hearing. With this vote the Board of Supervisors denied Rudyville’s request to replace an ocotillo forest with 169 1-acre residential lots. It also rejected the so-called “compromise” solution, recommended by the County Planning Commission in June, which would have put residential lots on top of the relic sand dune that runs through the property. The vote means the zoning for Rudyville will remain semi-rural, as it has been since the General Plan Update in 2011.

In the weeks leading up to the hearing, the Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy’s (TCDC) ran a campaign on social media—Borrego Knows Best! Borrego Knows Best, campaign video. More than 33,000 voters in San Diego County viewed the Borrego Knows Best! video, more than 1500 individuals signed the petition that was delivered to each of the supervisors, and dozens RSVP’d to attend the hearing.

On the morning of the hearing Borregans packed the chamber of the Board of Supervisors and overflowed into a second room. More than 100 people opposed to Rudyville traveled to San Diego for the hearing—some aboard the TCDC sponsored “Rudyville Express,” some cutting short vacations or postponing business obligations and traveling from distant parts of the state. Many who attended the hearing had to watch the proceedings on closed circuit TV in the overflow room because there were no more seats available in the chamber.

The Supervisors completed their preliminary business and considered four other Property Specific Requests before getting to the Rudyville. Chair Gaspar asked the speakers for the presentation organized by TCDC to begin the public comments. Maris Brancheau, Mark Jorgensen, Rob Staehle, Betsy Knaak, and David Garmon provided opening comments. Over the course of nearly an hour and a half a stream of Borregans laid out their rationale for retaining the current zoning on Rudyville, and repeatedly asked the Supervisors to state specific reasons if they disagreed with the conclusions being presented.

Only one person spoke in favor of upzoning Rudyville—one of the owners, Chris Brown, the former Land Use staffer for Supervisor Horn. He addressed the Supervisors with familiarity, saying that he was not addressing them in his “usual capacity as a hired gun,” but as someone with “skin in the game” because he was an owner of the parcel in question. Mr. Brown trotted out his usual arguments—the zoning change in 2011 wasn’t fair, he was being treated unfairly by county staff, he had spent a lot of money on this investment, and the down zoning of his property by the General Plan Update was an example of an illegal process known as “spot zoning"—all of which had been refuted in the TCDC presentation.

Toward the end of his presentation, Mr. Brown suggested that perhaps he could reach a compromise with the community and place a cap on the number of lots he would be allowed to create on the parcel. He floated the number 145 lots, to which the heretofore appropriately silent audience broke into spontaneous laughter.

Upon conclusion of public testimony, it was Supervisor Horn’s turn to speak. He began by railing at county staff for putting the 34 lots proposed in the Alternative Map in the flood plain: “I’ve been out there. I’ve walked that parcel. You can’t put housing in a flood plain.” Staff politely informed the Supervisor that he was misinterpreting the map, and that the section he thought was in the flood plain was actually outside of it, and vice versa. It was a Rosanne Rosannadanna moment.

Supervisor Horn’s next tack was to move that Rudyville be referred back to staff for “further study” and that perhaps it could be voted on in December. His motion was seconded by Chair Gaspar, but languished for lack of additional support.

At this moment Supervisor Jacob spoke. She praised the in depth analysis provided by county staff that recommended denying the Rudyville request. She described her deep understanding of east county communities grappling with water issues, and she opined that the facts of Borrego’s water situation would be no different in December. So there was no point in waiting until December to decide on Rudyville. She likened Mr. Brown’s investment in Rudyville to investing in the stock market: sometimes you make money and sometimes you lose money. Finally, she took up Mr. Brown’s theme of fairness. She said that fairness to investors is an important consideration, but that the Supervisors must also consider what is fair to the people who live in Borrego.

At the conclusion of her remarks, Supervisor Jacob asked that Supervisor Horn’s motion be withdrawn and replaced with her motion to accept staff’s recommendation to leave the zoning on Rudyville unchanged. Her motion was accepted by the Board and passed by a vote of 3-2. The two dissenting votes were Supervisors Horn and Gaspar. Several moments of stunned silence passed before the audience could grasp that Borrego Springs had just won the Battle of Rudyville.

Articles Published:

"Supervisors Reject Higher Density for Borrego Springs Land Near Tubb Canyon" Times of San Diego

Zoning Increase in Borrego Springs Denied by Supervisors San Diego Union Tribune

Summer 2018

Final Vote on Rudyville Set for
September 12, 2018

Participate:

September 12, 2018 | 9:00 a.m.
County Administration Center
1600 Pacific Highway
Room 310 (3rd floor)
San Diego, CA 92101

Stay Connected:

Sign Up for "Rudyville" Mailing List

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Dated: August 12, 2018

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors will make the final determination on Rudyville’s request for increased zoning density at its hearing on September 12, 2018. Despite Borrego’s years of overwhelming opposition to Rudyville (aka DS-24), the County Planning Commission, at it’s meeting in June, did not listen to Borregans or its own staff’s recommendation to deny Rudyville’s request in its entirety. Rather they voted to increase zoning density on the 20 acres of Rudyville that sits atop the relic sand dune. What the Board of Supervisors will do is anyone’s guess.

For more than a decade Borrego has turned out in droves on this issue—at Sponsor Group meetings, at County presentations, and at the Planning Commission hearing. We need to do it one more time, one last time. We need to pack this Board of Supervisors meeting on September 12th. The hearing will be on the third floor in Room 310 of the County Administration Center at 1600 Pacific Highway in San Diego. Anyone wishing to speak at the meeting must turn in a Speakers Request Form before the hearing begins at 9AM.

What you can do to make your voice heard:

Board of Supervisors:

The mailing address for all Supervisors is 1600 Pacific Highway, Room 335, San Diego, CA 92101.

J. David Garmon, MD
President, TCDC

County staff rejects Rudyville. Read all about it!DS24 General Plan Conformance

 

Summer 2018

Rudyville Showdown Set for September

Dated: August 9, 2018

The final vote on Rudyville’s request for increased zoning density on 170 acres of pristine desert habitat will take place on Wednesday, September 12, 2018, at a hearing before the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. The hearing will be held at the County Administration Center at 1600 Pacific Highway in San Diego, Room 310, beginning at 9AM. Any member of the public wishing to speak at the hearing must be present before 9AM to complete a speaker’s request form.

This is a critical moment in the 12 year saga of Rudyville. I encourage anyone and everyone who has an opinion on Rudyville to turn out for this hearing and to sign up to speak. This is the big one. Now is the time to send letters and make phone calls to each of the five Supervisors.

The prelude to the upcoming Board of Supervisors hearing was the June 22, 2018 hearing before the County Planning Commission. The role of the seven-member Planning Commission is to make recommendations to the Board of Supervisors on land use issues, such as Rudyville. At the June 22nd hearing, by a vote of 4-3, the Planning Commission rejected its own staff recommendation, which was to deny the Rudyville request in its entirety. The Commission then voted 6-1 to recommend the Reduced Impact Alternative, which would allow increased zoning density on the 20 northern most acres of Rudyville.

While some may view the Planning Commission’s recommendation of the Reduced Impact Alternative as an acceptable compromise, there is nothing binding about that recommendation. Just as the Planning Commission didn’t have to follow its own staff’s recommendation, so the Board of Supervisors is not compelled to follow the recommendation of the Planning Commission. The Supervisors may vote any way they chose, including up zoning the entire Rudyville parcel, which is why a large turnout for this hearing is so important.

Because of the political support that Rudyville appears to have, TCDC will launch a social media campaign in the weeks prior to the Board of Supervisors hearing. The goal of the campaign will be to provide each of the five Supervisors with as many letters, petitions, and phone calls about Rudyville as possible so they will understand community sentiment on this issue.

Anyone wishing to get more information and/or participate in the social media campaign may do so by signing up for the Rudyville Mailing List or by calling TCDC at (800) 204-3656.

J. David Garmon, MD
President, TCDC

 

Spring 2018

Planning Department Recommends Denying Rudyville Request

Dated: June 14, 2018

On June 8, 2018 the San Diego County Department of Planning and Development Services (DPDS) announced its recommendation to the County Planning Commission to deny the DS-24 (aka Rudyville) request to increase its zoning density from one home per ten acres to one home per acre. Such a denial is known as a “No Project Alternative” recommendation. The DPDS also confirmed the Planning Commission will hear public testimony and vote on the “No Project Alternative” recommendation on Rudyville at their June 22, 2018 meeting, which begins at 9AM. Anyone wishing to provide testimony at the hearing must submit a Speaker’s Request Form at the door before 9AM. The hearing will take place in the Conference Center of the County Operations Center at 5520 Overland Avenue in San Diego.

The Planning Commission has recognized the travel burden that a hearing in San Diego creates for residents of Borrego Springs. Rather than have Borrego residents make the two-hour trip to San Diego, be present by 9AM, and then potentially wait many hours before their agenda item is discussed, the Planning Commission has agreed to place Rudyville at the beginning of the agenda.

Although DPDS’s recommendation to the Planning Commission to deny the Rudyville request is an important milestone in this now 12 year old saga, it remains important for Borregans show up at the hearing and let the Commissioners know what Borrego thinks about Rudyville. For those Borregans who are unable, or don’t want, to travel to the hearing independently, Bill Wright has reserved a “luxury bus with facilities” that can transport 50 residents to and from the hearing free of charge. The bus will leave from the RoadRunner Club parking lot at 6:00AM on the morning of the hearing. Those wishing to travel on the bus must reserve a seat by calling (760) 445-1831 or emailing bill.thewrightco@gmail.com and should be at the parking lot by 5:45AM . Juice and pastries will be served on the bus, and the bus will stop for a light lunch on the way back to Borrego. The bus is estimated to be back in Borrego by mid-afternoon.

BDPDS’s recommendation to deny the Rudyville request is based on findings contained in the initial Environmental Impact Report and the Subsequent Environmental Impact Report. These reports provide a detailed analysis of the myriad reasons the request for increased zoning density should be denied—its inconsistencies with the General Plan (Chapter 2.9, Land Use, bit.ly/2CNR6BO, its increase in water demand at a time when the community must decrease water usage by 70% (Chapter 2.8, Hydrology and Water Quality, bit.ly/2CMVTUs, its impact on endangered/threatened species, its impact on an ancient ocotillo forest, its impact on air quality, the fact that Rudyville lies in a flood plain, and the fact that Borrego Springs already has 3000 entitled residential lots which represents a 100 year inventory at the current rate of sales.

At the June 22nd hearing the Planning Commission will vote on whether or not to accept DPDS’s “No Project Alternative” recommendation on Rudyville. The Planning Commission’s decision on Rudyville will be forwarded to the County Board of Supervisors who will make the final decision on Rudyville later this summer.

J. David Garmon, MD
President, TCDC

 

Spring 2018

Penultimate Hearing for Rudyville is Scheduled

Dated: May 2018

After more than a decade of hearings, studies, reports, and meetings, the fate of Rudyville will be determined this year, 2018, at two hearings in San Diego. The first hearing will be before the County Planning Commission and the second will be before the County Board of Supervisors.

“There is a 90% probability the County Planning Commission’s hearing on Rudyville will be on Friday, June 22, 2018,” says staff from the Department of Planning and Development Services (DPDS). The date will not be confirmed until two weeks before the hearing. Because of the travel burden this hearing in San Diego places on those Borregans who wish to attend, DPDS staff began notifying interested parties in Borrego in the second week of May of the “very likely” date of the hearing. The Planning Commission hearing will be at the County Complex located at 5520 Overland Avenue in San Diego.

At this hearing the Planning Commission will formally receive the Environmental Impact Report that was prepared by the DPDS over the last seven years, and the Commission will hear public comment on Rudyville, as well as comment regarding the 41 other Property Specific Requests located throughout San Diego County. DPDS staff is requesting Rudyville be the first item on the agenda, at 9:00AM, in acknowledgement that those members of the public who have travelled the farthest should not also have to sit through the entire hearing.

Borregans have for more than a decade articulated the myriad reasons why Rudyville’s request to increase its zoning density must be denied. Now that we are at the end of this long process, it is crucial to have a crowd of 20-30 community members reiterate for the Planning Commission why Rudyville must be stopped.

The Planning Commission’s recommendation on Rudyville will be forwarded to the County Board of Supervisors who will make the final decision sometime later in the summer. The date for the Supervisors’ hearing has not been set, but could be as early as July or as late as September.

Because this hearing is occurring in the middle of the summer when many Borregans are in other parts of the country and cannot travel back to San Diego, all members of the community who care about this issue and can travel to San Diego are urged to do so. Additionally, anyone planning to attend the Planning Commission hearing is urged to contact the Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy (TCDC) via email at email.our.team@tubbcanyondesertconservancy.org or phone at (800) 204-3656. TCDC will maintain a roster of those who plan to attend the hearing, and will be disseminating additional information as it becomes available.

Spring 2018

Sponsor Group Rejects Rudyville …Again

Dated: February 2018

In a unanimous, 7-0, vote the Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group rejected Rudyville’s Property Specific Request (PSR) to increase its zoning density from one home per ten acres to one home per acre. The meeting, which drew a crowd of 60, was held at the Borrego Springs High School on Thursday, March 1, 2018.

Rudyville, officially known as DS-24, is a 170-acre parcel of pristine desert habitat located in a flood plain west of Borrego Springs Road between the mile 9 and mile 10 markers. It is home to an old growth ocotillo forest, a relict sand dune, threatened and endangered species, and forms a large swath of the iconic southern entrance into Borrego Springs. Since 2006, the owners of Rudyville have petitioned the County to zone the property for 170 one-acre residential lots. One of the owners, Chris Brown, formerly served on the staff of Supervisor Bill Horn.

Rebecca Falk, Chair of the Sponsor Group, began the discussion of the Rudyville agenda item by asking if anyone in attendance intended to speak in favor of the DS-24 request for increased zoning density. Not a hand was raised.

Kevin Johnston, project manager for the Department of Planning and Development Services (DPDS), provided context for the discussion of DS-24 by describing the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for Rudyville his team has compiled over the past six years. He noted the amount of public input his team has received on Rudyville far exceeds the input for any of the other 41 PSR’s that are part of this countywide General Plan Amendment and Rezoning process. He reminded the crowd that the creation of the EIR for Rudyville was authorized by the Board of Supervisors in July 2012 when they voted to spend taxpayer money for the benefit of a few dozen landowners throughout San Diego County who requested reconsideration of the zoning designation they received when the County adopted the General Plan in August 2011.

In his presentation Mr. Johnston described DS-24’s multiple inconsistencies with the County’s General Plan, as well as with the Borrego Springs’ Community Plan. Because of the number and significance of these inconsistencies, the DPDS’s preliminary recommendation for Rudyville is the “No Project Alternative.” Such a recommendation is a rejection of Rudyville’s request for increased zoning density for the entire 170-acre parcel, and it is also a rejection of the “Minimal Alternative” that would allow increased zoning density on approximately 20 of the 170 acres in question. Mr. Johnston’s team was required to create a Minimal Alternative as a matter of compliance with California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

Mr. Johnston said the final recommendation of the DPDS will be made later this year in advance of the public hearing at the County Planning Commission in San Diego, and he reminded the audience the recommendations of the DPDS are not binding on the Supervisors who will have the final say on Rudyville. He emphasized the importance of members of the Borrego community attending the public hearings of the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors in San Diego later this year, if they wish to make their views known. Mr. Johnston said, “The DPDS is striving to complete our work in time for the Planning Commission to vote on these PSR’s, including DS-24, at their June 2018 meeting. If we make this deadline, the Board of Supervisors could then vote on DS-24 as early as July.”

Following Mr. Johnston’s presentation, the Sponsor Group took comments from members of the community. Mark Jorgenson, former superintendent of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park spoke of the “sin” of destroying the old growth ocotillo forest that covers much of the Rudyville parcel. Betsy Knaak, Executive Director of the Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association, spoke of the ocotillo forest as a “local, state, and national treasure,” iconic for our region much like the Joshua Trees of the national park by the same name. Robert Staehle, a landowner in the Tubb Canyon neighborhood, asserted the private property rights of landowners in the vicinity of Rudyville: “If homes were ever build on Rudyville, it would require taking my land to build a giant flood diversion project on my property and on my neighbors’ properties. Why should our private property be taken so some developer in San Diego can make a buck!”

Several speakers noted there are already thousands of zoned and entitled lots available for development in Borrego Springs. The question of why Borrego Springs would make a special exception for Rudyville to create even more lots at a time when the community is in the midst of reducing water consumption by 70% was a recurring theme.

At the conclusion of 90 minutes of public comment, the seven-member Sponsor Group voted unanimously to deny Rudyville’s request for increased zoning density. Following the voting, Sponsor Group member Linda Haddock commented, “In all the years we have had hearings on this issue I’ve never heard anyone speak in favor of Rudyville.”

First Rejection—2007

In 2006 the owners of Rudyville petitioned county officials for a “Mitigated Negative Declaration,” which would have allowed them to proceed with their plans for creating 170 residential lots without performing an Environmental Impact Report. Mitigated Negative Declarations are used in situations in which “there is no substantial evidence … that the project may have a significant effect on the environment.” (CEQA, Title 14, Ch.3) In their application for a Mitigated Negative Declaration, when asked on a county form if the property contains natural features of scenic value, the owners of Rudyville checked “no.”

Community residents and the Borrego Springs Sponsor Group saw things differently. Opposition to Rudyville solidified, and in 2007 the Sponsor Group officially opposed the request for a Mitigated Negative Declaration “because of its proposed density, impacts to groundwater, impacts to the stabilized sand due that runs through the parcel, and because the development would encourage Borrego to grow to the south when efforts have been made to expand Borrego’s residential district to the north onto current agricultural land.” (Borrego Sun, Vol. 56, No. 13, June 28, 2007).

Second Rejection—2012

In March 2012 the Borrego Springs Sponsor group again formally rejected Rudyville’s request for increased zoning density citing: “1) One of the principals of Country Club Estates LLC (Rudyville) has ties to Supervisor Horn and this suggests a conflict of interest. 2) Sonoran Creosote Bush Scrub does not accurately depict the ‘Ocotillo Forest’ that exists on this property. 3) The underlying sand dune would be disturbed by grating and would not restabilize. 4) There are hundreds of already subdivided lots in Borrego Springs. 5) The largest community outcry in the last decade was generated by this project in 2006.”

Third Rejection—2016

On April 7, 2016 the Sponsor Group again took up Rudyville’s request for increased zoning density. More than 150 community members attended this standing-room-only meeting. Not one person spoke in favor of the Rudyville request. Because of vacancies and recusals, the Sponsor Group did not have a quorum and was unable to vote, but the sentiment of the community was clear.

Fourth Rejection—2018

March 1, 2018, the Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group unanimously votes to deny the Rudyville request for increased zoning density.

The Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy will be coordinating a petition and letter writing campaign in the months prior to the public hearings of the County Planning Commission and the County Board of Supervisors, where the fate of Rudyville will be determined. The dates for these hearings have not yet been set. All interested community members who would like to be informed of the dates, times, and locations of these public hearings and/or would like to participate in making elected representatives aware of community sentiment regarding Rudyville are invited to sign up for the Rudyville Mailing List at www.tubbcanyondesertconservancy.org.

J. David Garmon, MD
President, TCDC

 

Winter-Spring 2018

Borrego Springs to Render Opinion on Rudyville

Public Comment:

March 1, 2018 at 4:30 PM

Borrego Springs High School
Community Room

2281 Diegueno Rd,
Borrego Springs, CA 92004

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The Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group will meet on March 1, 2018 at 4:30 PM in the Community Meeting Room at the Borrego Springs High School to hear public comment on the now decade-long development scheme known as “Rudyville.” Officially referred to by the county as DS-24, Rudyville is a request by developer Rudy Monica to increase the zoning of his 170-acre parcel from one house per ten acres to one home per acre.

Rudyville is located in the flood plain west of Borrego Springs Road and northwest of the mile 9 marker. It is home to an ancient ocotillo forest, a relic san dune, as well as threatened and endangered species. This tract of land forms a large part of the iconic southern entrance through ocotillo forests into Borrego Springs that has been depicted on visitors maps dating as far back as the late 1940’s. (See map)

Rudyville shown on 1940s Fun Map

The last time the Sponsor Group held a public hearing on Rudyville was April 7, 2016. At that meeting not one of the comments provided by the more than 150 attendees were in support of Rudyville. Despite the overwhelming public opposition at the 2016 meeting, the Sponsor Group was unable to vote because of a lack of a quorum due to vacancies and recusals.

This time, on March 1, 2018, there will be a vote. Vacancies have been filled, and the current members of the Sponsor Group do not have conflicts of interest that would require recusal. This time, residents of Borrego Springs will have an opportunity to make known their thoughts and feelings about Rudyville through an official vote of their Community Sponsor Group.

Although the Sponsor Group is “advisory only” to the county Board of Supervisors, it nevertheless expresses the will of residents who will be impacted by decisions of the Board of Supervisors. Staff from the Department of Planning and Development Services will be present at the March 1st Sponsor Group meeting and are obliged to include the decision of the Sponsor Group as well as the tenor of the public comment in their final report to the Board of Supervisors.

As Borregans know well, the votes of our local Sponsor Group do not determine the final outcome of projects that come before the County Board of Supervisors. The vote of the Sponsor Group is not binding upon the Supervisors.

After the Sponsor Group takes a vote on March 1st and sends its formal recommendation to the county, there will be two more public hearings that will ultimately determine the outcome of the Rudyville saga. The first hearing will be before the County Planning Commission. The second, and final, hearing (and final vote!) will be before the County Board of Supervisors. Dates for these two hearings have not yet been set, but the earliest possible dates for them are June 2018 and July 2018 respectively, which, in the middle of summer, are not good times for Borregans. And both hearings will be in San Diego, not a convenient location for Borregans.

Because many people concerned about Rudyville will not be in Borrego during the summer, or may be unable to travel to San Diego for the hearings, the Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy has arranged for videographers to be present at the March 1st meeting of the Sponsor Group. These videographers will record the proceedings of the meeting, and they will make a brief video of any member of the community who would like to make a statement to the Planning Commission and to the Board of Supervisors but would not be able to do so in person. These videos of Borregans’ comments will be used to create a “movie” that will be presented at the hearings of the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors.

For a decade now, the community of Borrego Springs has opposed Rudyville. The Sponsor Group first voiced its opposition in a March 1, 2012 letter to the Department of Planning and Land Use. The Borrego Water District signaled its opposition to Rudyville in its public statement of March 23, 2016. The Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce elaborated its opposition to Rudyville in a letter to the Department of Planning and Development Services dated April 7, 2016. And now, it appears staff from the Department of Planning and Development Services is poised to formally recommend the “No Project Alternative,” i.e. deny Rudyville’s request for increased density, because of multiple inconsistencies with the General Plan that are described in the Supplemental Environmental Impact Report published in December 2017.

Among the many inconsistencies and undesirable impacts of Rudyville are: 1) The Rudyville proposal does not conform to the principles of the General Plan, or the Borrego Springs Community Plan, which prohibits new development on undisturbed desert land. 2) At a time when Borrego Springs is confronting the necessity of reducing water consumption by 70%, the Rudyville proposal would increase residential water demand. 3) Even without Rudyville, at the current rate of sales there is a 30-year inventory of vacant residential lots in Borrego Springs. 4) The abandoned dike to the west of Rudyville that used to partially protect it from flood waters from the Tubb Canyon-Culp catchment areas was breached in the flooding of 2013. Any attempt at flood mitigation for Rudyville would require the taking of private property adjacent to Rudyville and would be opposed by impacted landowners and by property rights activists in perpetuity.

J. David Garmon, MD
President, TCDC

 

 

Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy

Winter-Spring 2018

Rudyville: The Home Stretch

While TCDC continues to make progress on multiple fronts, including beginning Phase II of the search for a biocontrol agent for Sahara mustard, the pressing concern of the moment is Rudyville. Friends and neighbors in the Tubb Canyon area have opposed Rudyville as an ecologic and public policy abomination for more than a decade, providing public testimony and public comment at every possible opportunity. As Rudyville enters the final phase of consideration by county government, it is the focus of this Update.

With the County’s publication of the long-awaited Supplemental Environmental Impact Report (SEIR) on December 14, 2017, the saga of Rudyville (referred to as DS-24 by the County) is in the home stretch. The publication of the SEIR sets the stage for public hearings and a vote on Rudyville by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors sometime in 2018. The vote by the County Board of Supervisors will determine whether or not Rudyville will increase its zoning density from one home per ten acres to one home per acre.

The SEIR is available in its entirety on the County’s website. The report is not focused on any one of the 41 Property Specific Requests (PSR’s) to amend the County’s General Plan for land use, but rather is a description of the process involved in evaluating the environmental impacts of each of the PSR’s, including Rudyville. The public is invited to comment on the thoroughness and the analyses of the SEIR until February 12, 2018, and may do so by emailing Kevin Johnston or by calling (858) 694-3426.

County staff has performed a Herculean task in evaluating the environmental impacts of 41 separate PSR’s located throughout San Diego County. Two of these PSR’s are in Borrego Springs, one of them being Rudyville. County staff has documented the public opposition to Rudyville expressed at a meeting of the Borrego Springs Sponsor Group on April 7, 2016; and they have documented the myriad issues associated with Rudyville’s request to increase its zoning density—its inconsistencies with the General Plan (See Chapter 2.9, Land Use,), its increase in water demand at a time when the community must decrease water usage by 70% (See Chapter 2.8, Hydrology and Water Quality,), its impact on endangered species, its impact on an ancient ocotillo forest, its impact on air quality, the fact that Rudyville lies in a flood plane, the fact that Borrego Springs already has 3000 entitled residential lots and does not need more, etc.

Even though the Rudyville PSR has garnered more public input (and outcry) than any of the other 40 PSR’s under consideration, the final determination of Rudyville’s zoning will be a political decision of the San Diego Planning Commission and the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. Because the final determination is a political decision, public participation will be crucial in determining the final outcome. Unfortunately for residents of Borrego Springs, the public hearings before the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors will be in San Diego, and most likely will be held during the summer months.

The first hearing will be before the County Planning Commission, and could be scheduled as early as June 2018. The exact date has not been set. The County Board of Supervisors appoints the seven members of the Planning Commission who will hear staff reports and staff recommendations, as well as public comments, regarding each of the 41 Property Specific Requests. The Planning Commission will then formulate recommendations to the County Board of Supervisors for each of the 41 PSR’s, including Rudyville.

The final public hearing on Rudyville will be before the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. The earliest possible date for this hearing is July 2018; but again, the exact date has not been set. At this meeting the Supervisors will hear recommendations from the Planning Commission as well as input from the public. And then they will vote on each of the Property Specific Requests, including Rudyville.

Although public participation at the hearings before the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors does not guarantee an outcome, public participation has been noted to be correlated with outcomes. A group of 40-50 people creates a presence to be acknowledged and is distinctly different from leaving public officials with the idea that “no one cares and no one is watching.” A strong showing at both meetings will be crucial in letting the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors know that the community of Borrego Springs cares deeply about what happens with Rudyville.

The Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy (TCDC) has opposed Rudyville since its inception, providing public comment and public testimony at every opportunity. TCDC will continue to closely follow Rudyville developments. When meeting dates of the hearings before the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors are known, they will be published in the Borrego Sun and on the TCDC website.

During the spring of 2018, TCDC will be coordinating efforts to facilitate making the voices of Borregans heard in San Diego. If you would like to receive updates about Rudyville, including hearing dates and actions you can take to make your voice heard, please click here to sign up for the Rudyville Mailing List.

J. David Garmon, MD
President, TCDC

 

 

Spring 2017

Sahara Mustard is in Retreat. Let’s “do something.”

When the wildflower fields along Henderson Canyon Rd. were nothing but a thicket of Sahara mustard, when the weed seemed to line every road in town, when it was even growing in the planters at The Mall, a common refrain was, “Why didn’t we do something about Sahara mustard when there were just a few plants instead of the millions we have now?” That was the spring of 2011 when the destructive power of Sahara mustard was on full display, an awesome biological transformation of our desert ecosystem unfolding before our eyes. The take home lesson was the explosive capability of “just a few” Sahara mustard plants.

Although Borrego Springs has become the global leader in Sahara mustard genetic research, much remains to be learned (See “The Fight against Sahara Mustard Heats Up,” The Borrego Sun, 2/23/17). We are still several years from having a safe and effective biocontrol agent. So for the moment, we are left to defend our region with surveillance and manual eradication. Our good luck is that over the last four years Mother Nature has lent us a very big helping hand.

The last four years of drought suggest Sahara mustard seeds are not as hardy as the seeds of our native winter annuals, e.g. sand verbena, desert lily, desert primrose, and desert sunflowers. So in the spring of 2016, despite the fact Sahara mustard had created an extraordinary seed bank in 2011 in the Henderson Canyon fields, it was not the seeds of Sahara mustard that survived four years of drought, but rather those of our native annuals (See Photo 1). Yes, last year there was the occasional Sahara mustard plant—a few dozen per acre; but not the millions of Sahara mustard plants that had prevented the growth of virtually everything else in 2011 (See photo 2).

Photo 1

Wildflower fields in 2016

 

PHOTO 2

Sahara Mustard infested the wildflower fields in 2010
Same location, after Sahara Mustard infested the
wildflower fields in 2010. Note the dying creosote bushes.
Photo courtesy of Ron Neibrugge www.wildnatureimages.com

With the drought Mother Nature has effectively turned back the clock to a time when there are “just a few” Sahara mustard plants. Primarily they are in disturbed soils along the shoulders of roads. They can be easily seen along Borrego Springs Rd. There are some along Highway 78 between Tamarisk Grove and the mouth of San Filipe Canyon. There are plants to be found along portions of Country Club Rd. near Sunset and Church Lane. There are plants along Sunset.

There was a prodigious stand of Sahara mustard along Palm Canyon Dr. at the airport. There were numerous plants along the shoulders of Highway 78 in San Filipe Canyon. Kudos to the Mustard Busters who have removed those plants! It is particularly important to remove Sahara mustard from along our roadways because these are the plants that produce the seeds that hitch rides on our tires to infest new locations. It is also from these initial road shoulder infestations that Sahara mustard eventually spreads into open desert.

Although today’s plants number in the thousands, this is a more manageable number compared to the countless millions of plants that dominated our landscape five years ago. Mother Nature has given us the opportunity to “do something while there are just a few plants.” And that “something to do” is to pull those few plants up by the root—an activity the initiated refer to as “mustard busting.”

The rules for effective mustard busting are few and simple:

  1. Work in pairs. If you are an experienced mustard buster, take someone with you who has yet to learn the ropes. If you are inexperienced, find someone who can teach you what Sahara mustard looks like. There are a few look-a-likes that you will need to be able to identify and avoid. We find it takes about an hour of training to develop “pattern recognition” for Sahara mustard. Once you have it, your hikes and drive through the desert will never be the same. (See Identifying Sahara Mustard for pictures of Sahara mustard and its look-a-likes.)
  2. Now that you can identify Sahara mustard, pull each plant you find up by its root.
  3. If the Sahara mustard plant you have pulled from the soil has not yet begun creating seedpods, you may break off its taproot and leave both the taproot and the leafy portion on the ground. It will not re-root.
  4. If the Sahara mustard plant you have pulled from the soil has begun creating seedpods, you must break off the stem containing the seedpods, being careful not to dislodge or inadvertently spread the seeds. Place the stem containing the seedpods into a heavy-duty (3-4 mm) trash bag, 30 gallon capacity or greater. (You will need the larger capacity bags for serious mustard busting of mature plants, each plant capable of creating 15,000-20,000 seeds.) Break off the taproot from the remaining leafy portion of the plant. You may leave the taproot and the leafy portion (without seedpods) on the ground.
  5. Large, mature seedpod stems are rigid and can puncture even heavy-duty trash bags. If this happens, place the punctured bag inside a new bag to make sure you are not inadvertently spreading mustard seeds, which are red and tiny, about the size of the head of a pin.
  6. When you return home with your heavy-duty trash bags full of Sahara mustard seedpods, inspect your bag(s) to make sure there are no puncture holes. If there are, see #5 above. If there are no puncture holes, pour about a cup of water into the trash bag containing the seedpods. Tightly secure the neck of the bag to make it as air tight as possible. Leave the bag in a sunny location for 7-10 days. Do not open the bag. This process of “solarization” (rotting) will destroy the seeds, making them safe for disposal as ordinary garbage.
  7. Repeat steps 1-6 as often as possible!

J. David Garmon, MD
President, TCDC

 

Winter 2016-17

Rudyville Update

Rudyville (aka DS-24) is one of 41 active Property Specific Requests (PSRs) in San Diego County, each seeking approval from the County Board of Supervisors for proposed Amendments to the County’s General Plan. Most of the PSRs (including DS-24) seek increased housing density. In the case of Rudyville the request is to change the current General Plan designation of the entire 170-acre property from one house per 10 acres (SR-10) to one house per one acre (SR-1). A public hearing in Borrego Springs on April 7, 2016 convened by the Community Sponsor Group demonstrated broad and deep community opposition to the Rudyville Property Specific Request. No one in the overflow crowd of more than 160 citizens spoke in favor of the requested zoning change.

As a part of the process of evaluating any request to amend San Diego County’s General Plan, staff members from the Department of Planning and Development Services (PDS) are required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to prepare a Subsequent Environmental Impact Report (SEIR) for all PSRs, including Rudyville. These county staff members, who were present at the April 2016 public hearing in Borrego Springs, have incorporated community feedback into their General Plan policy review, and the community feedback will also be reflected in the draft SEIR.

CEQA requires SEIRs evaluate a range of alternatives to the original PSR that would avoid or substantially lessen significant environmental effects of the original request. To accomplish this CEQA requirement, county staff has prepared such an Alternative for DS-24 that would re-designate only the 20 northeastern-most acres of Rudyville to SR-1 and leave the zoning for the remainder of Rudyville unchanged at SR-10 (See Map 1). This 20-acre Alternative was deemed to be less environmentally impactful because it is largely on top of the relic sand dune that runs through Rudyville and thus is mostly outside the 100-year flood plain (See Map 2). This Alternative is considered to be in “draft” form at this point in the process, and it is not a PDS staff recommendation for DS-24.

County staff anticipates finalizing all the Alternatives for each of the 41 PSRs, including Rudyville, by March 2017, allowing them to have the draft SEIR ready for public review/comment later in the spring of 2017. County staff will make known their formal recommendations on each of the PSRs in late summer or early fall of 2017.

Once finalized, the draft SEIR will represent “new information” in the amendment process; and, as such, it will be subject to public review. The Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group will have the option of holding another public meeting on Rudyville to consider and comment on this new information. It will also have another opportunity to pass an official recommendation on DS-24. Due to abstentions at the April 2016 hearing, the Community Sponsor Group did not have the required quorum to pass an official recommendation.

Public hearings at the county level on all the PSRs will begin with hearings before the County Planning Commission in the fall of 2017. The County Board of Supervisors appoints the seven members of this Commission. These hearings will be held at the County Operations Conference Center at 5520 Overland Avenue in San Diego. The date and time have not yet been determined.

The County Board of Supervisors, which will have the final word on these requests for amendments to the General Plan, is expected to take up the matter at the end of 2017. The Board of Supervisors will be provided information and recommendations from Community Planning Groups, Community Sponsor Groups, PDS staff, as well as from the County Planning Commission; however, individual supervisors are not constrained by any of these recommendations and are free to vote as they wish.

The public will have opportunity to provide further comment on Rudyville at the public hearings that will be scheduled in 2017. In the meantime, members of the public are welcome to contact Kevin Johnston, Land Use/Environmental Planner in the Department of Planning and Development Services, with comments or questions. He may be reached at kevin.johnston@sdcounty.ca.gov or (858) 694-3084.

Zoing Map

The 170-acre Rudyville (aka DS-24) property is outlined in red. Rudyville’s original Property Specific Request is to rezone the entire 170 acres from one house per ten acres to one house per one acre. The CEQA-required Alternative shown in the map would only rezone the 20 acres shown in yellow.

The 170-acre Rudyville property is outlined in dark blue. The white section running through the middle of Rudyville follows the general location of the relic sand dune, which is mostly above the 100-year Flood Plain.

Stay Connected:

J. David Garmon, MD
President, TCDC

Spring 2016

Borrego Unanimous in Opposition to Rudyville

On Thursday, April 7th 2016, approximately 163 persons attended the meeting of the Community Sponsor Group held at the Borrego Springs High School. Staff from the San Diego County Department of Planning & Development Services attended this Public Hearing to receive public testimony regarding the “Rudyville” (aka Borrego County Club Estates, DS-24) Property Specific Request (PSR) for a General Plan Amendment (GPA) to increase the housing density of Rudyville from one house per 10 acres to one house per one acre.

Though most Sponsor Group meetings scheduled for weekday afternoons attract only a handful of attendees, there was standing room only in the High School’s Community Room on April 7th, with an overflow of attendees sitting on the floor and outside on the lawn. A show of hands at the beginning of the meeting revealed the attendees were unanimous in their opposition to Rudyville. No attendee spoke in support of Rudyville; and those attendees who did speak expressed passionate reasons for opposing an increase in housing density for Rudyville.

Staff members from the County’s Department of Planning and Development Services—Kevin Johnston, Land Use/Environmental Planner, and Noah Alvey, Planning Manager—were present at the meeting to brief the Sponsor Group and public about the Property Specific Request process, to hear comments from the public, and to answer questions. They reminded the crowd that in July 2012 the County Board of Supervisors directed County staff to analyze 43 Property Specific Requests (PSR’s) spread throughout San Diego County. Two of these PSR’s are located in Borrego Springs: one is Rudyville, DS-24; the other is DS-8, which is a large parcel between Borrego Springs Road and Di Giorgio Road, just west of the Roadrunner Club. Rudyville was by far the primary focus of concern and opposition at the April 7th meeting.

Several community organizations opposed to Rudyville advocated the preservation of the entire ocotillo forest, relict sand dune, and seasonal desert stream located on the Rudyville site.

Betsy Knaak, representing the Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association (ABDNHA), noted the Rudyville parcel encompasses perhaps the oldest, most dense, and publicly accessible stand of ocotillos in the entire desert Southwest.

The Anza Borrego Foundation (ABF) and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park asserted that the Rudyville site provides an important buffer zone and wildlife habitat associated with the nearby state park.

The Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce emphasized the fact that there are already thousands of existing lots in Borrego Springs and that any future residential development should occur on disturbed, fallowed agricultural grounds, not pristine desert habitat.

Lori Paul, speaking on behalf of the Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy, revealed that a 2008 investigation of County records by Tubb Canyon residents discovered a massive flood control project concealed within Rudyville planning documents. At least 60% of the Rudyville site is located in a floodplain, necessitating the construction of a major concrete diversion dam, a debris basin, and flood control channels on neighbors' properties that would be taken by eminent domain. Construction of such a dam and flood channels would deprive adjacent properties, including State Park lands, of naturally occurring seasonal water flows and would increase the flow and alter the direction of flash floods across Borrego Springs Road.

Local residents would be forced to pay for the extensive flood diversion structures through a special “Geologic Hazard Assessment District” fee added to their property tax bills. It was noted that Rudy Monica failed to mention this dam and water diversion channel system during any of his original versions of the subdivision presented at past Sponsor Group meetings.

Several attendees noted Borrego Springs has had a surplus of vacant building sites and houses for sale over many decades, including in the vicinity of Rudyville. Additional graded lots would adversely impact the value of existing private properties by creating an even larger surplus of building sites in a small, economically challenged community.

Members of the Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group do not support the increase in zoning density for Rudyville; however, because two of the five members of the Sponsor Group recused themselves from a vote due to potential conflicts of interest, the Sponsor Group lacked a quorum and could not offer a formal decision to the San Diego County Planners. Members who recused themselves were: Tom Beltran, Sponsor Group Chairperson, who owns a home adjacent to the proposed Rudyville site; and Rebecca Falk, a realtor who stated she is currently involved in a property transaction associated with Rudy Monica, the lead promoter of Rudyville.

County planners will incorporate testimony from this Public Hearing as part of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) they were instructed to create by the County Board of Supervisors in July 2012. Planners expect this EIR will be completed at the end of 2016 or the beginning of 2017. Once completed, the EIR will represent “new information” and as such will be open…again…to Public Comment and review by the Community Sponsor Group.

Eventually the completed EIR will be presented to the San Diego County Planning Commission where there will be another Public Hearing, probably at the end of 2017. The Planning Commission will make a final recommendation to the Board of Supervisors who will have a final vote on the matter at the end of 2017 or the beginning of 2018. Planners urged the community to send in their comments and to keep involved during each phase of this lengthy process.

Supporting Documents:

Stay Connected:

J. David Garmon, MD
President, TCDC

 

Winter 2015

Public Hearing for “Rudyville” set for April 7, 2016

The Public Hearing for the “Rudyville” Property Specific Request (PSR) for a General Plan Amendment (GPA) will occur at a meeting of the Community Sponsor Group on April 7, 2016 at 4:30PM in the Community Room of the Borrego Springs High School. The owners of Rudyville are requesting the County amend its General Plan to increase allowable housing density of Rudyville from one house per 10 acres to one house per one acre.

Rudyville, aka Borrego Country Club Estates, aka (DS-24), is a 170-acre parcel northwest of the intersection of Borrego Springs Rd. and Country Club Rd. This parcel is located in the flood plain of Tubb Canyon and is home to an ancient ocotillo forest, a relic sand dune, and endangered species habitat. Burrowing owls are on the parcel. The owners of Rudyville intend to grade the sand dune, remove the ocotillo forest, and sell vacant lots. Scraping the desert in this high wind area would create serious particulate dust pollution for downwind residents.

This meeting of the Sponsor Group will be an important opportunity for all members of the community to provide public testimony about this request to change zoning. County Staff will be present to take testimony, as well as to present the staff’s analysis of the PSR and to answer questions. Kevin Johnston, Land Use/Environmental Planner, will be at the meeting and is available prior to the meeting to answer questions and/or provide background information to any interested person. He may be reached by phone at (858) 694-3084. Groundwater Geologist, Jim Bennet, and Planning Manager, Noah Alvey, will also be present.

Anyone interested in viewing the numerous public comment letters regarding Rudyville that were submitted during the comment period that ended February 4th may do so on the County’s website at http://bit.ly/1TPrl5F.

In June 2012 the County Board of Supervisors directed County staff to analyze 43 “Property Specific Requests” (PSRs) spread throughout San Diego County. Two of these PSR’s are located in Borrego Springs. One is Rudyville. The other is DS-8, which is a 170-acre parcel between Borrego Springs Road and Di Giorgio Road, just west of the Roadrunner Club community. Both Rudyville and DS-8 will be considered at the April 7th meeting.

The Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy (TCDC) views this zoning change request for Rudyville as a step toward unnecessary residential development of pristine desert habitat located miles from the village core. This development is within the scenic viewshed of the Tubb/Glorietta Canyon Bajada and the adjacent Anza Borrego Desert State Park, as seen from Crawford overlook, Montezuma Grade and many other areas. TCDC has enumerated its objections to this development in its public comment letter that may be viewed at http://bit.ly/1R4q70I. TCDC urges all members of the community who have an interest or concern regarding this development to attend this very important public hearing. This is the time to make your voice heard!

Supporting Documents:

J. David Garmon, MD
President, TCDC

 

Fall 2015

A New Area of Advocacy

It has been a busy year at the Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy. As you may recall, the end of 2014 found TCDC expanding its advocacy role beyond addressing the threat of Sahara Mustard. The new area of advocacy for TCDC is protecting desert habitat from becoming “sacrifice zones” for utility-scale renewable energy projects and the giant transmission lines that would connect those facilities to coastal urban centers far from the point of electrical generation. Massive renewable energy projects destroy fragile desert ecosystems; generate particulate air pollution where large areas of desert are cleared of vegetation for installations; consume precious groundwater resources (or utilize polluting water truck deliveries) for frequent cleaning of solar panels (required for optimal output), and adversely impact desert vistas.

Specifically, TCDC provided opposition to a state and federal project knows as the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) that proposed to cover 22.5 million acres in California and nearly 300,000 acres in eastern San Diego County. The DRECP would have “fast tracked” innumerable renewable energy projects in what many plan proponents consider to be the “vast, empty wastelands of the desert.” Despite years of delay, this 8000-page plan was ill-conceived. A fundamental problem with the plan was that it explicitly did not consider the possibility of siting renewable energy sources on existing urban rooftops close to where the electricity was needed. TCDC cast light on this deficiency in its November 2014 public comments to the California Independent Systems Operator (PDF).

In addition to submitting public comments, TCDC alerted the news media to our concerns about the DRECP:

TCDC also created an online petition pointing out this deficiency of the plan. The petition garnered nearly 1400 signatures before the public comment period ended on February 23, 2015. On February 26, 2015 I delivered these signatures to the heads of the federal and state agencies in Sacramento that were responsible for the DRECP and met with the Director of the DRECP and the Governor’s liaison to the DRECP to communicate our concerns. You may read more about this effort in the article that appeared in the Borrego Sun: “Taking Grassroots to the Capitol
TCDC was one of the thousands of strong voices that slowed the DRECP juggernaut. In the face of such opposition, the DRECP was forced to “regroup” and devise an alternative strategy. It is currently pursuing a “phased approach,” which unlike the DRECP, will allow more time for public consideration of the siting of utility scale renewable energy generating facilities.
The challenge of balancing our need for increased electricity generation from renewable sources with our need for preserving fragile desert ecosystems is far from over, but it is clear that our collective voices can have a powerful impact on this ongoing process. Thank you to those who have participated in attempts to defend fragile desert resources. Stay tuned for future developments and opportunities to take action!

AmeriCorps 2105

For the fourth year in a row, TCDC sponsored a team from AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC). On January 9, TCDC, along with our partners at the Anza Borrego Foundation and the Anza Borrego Desert State Park, received the AmeriCorps Silver 6 Team for their 10-week stay. This hard-working group of young people not only helped us remove highly invasive Sahara Mustard from those locations where it sprang up this year, they also created a community workshop to raise awareness about a new foreign invader, Canary Island Knapweed (Volutaria canariensis)
This year’s AmeriCorps team was instrumental in assisting TCDC and the University of California, Irvine (UCI) to produce the first meeting of the Biodiversity and Invasive Species Network (BISN) that was held at the Steele Burnand Anza-Borrego Desert Research Center on January 30, 2015.

Progress in the Fight Against Sahara Mustard

The last three years of drought have been difficult in California, including in the deserts. However, the drought has created conditions for a “natural experiment” with Sahara Mustard. For years we have had anecdotal information that the Sahara Mustard seed bank (seeds an annual plant leaves in the ground until the next growing season) has a “shelf life” of three years in the desert. This means if the seed bank is not replenished each and every year, most Sahara Mustard plants will be gone by the third year. Because the drought prevented Sahara Mustard from germinating and growing to any great extent over the last three years, we have been positioned to observe what would happen in places like the highly mustard-impacted wildflower fields of Henderson Canyon. Four years ago, wildflowers had almost disappeared into dense fields of Sahara Mustard; however, in the drought-stricken last 3 years, there have been far fewer mustard plants.
The results are in: this year, in the spring of 2015, wildflowers were back in Henderson Canyon and there was very little Sahara Mustard! By “very little,” there were perhaps 20-30 Sahara Mustard plants per acre as opposed to the thousands of plants per acre in the 2010-2011 growing season. These circumstances set the stage for this year’s AmeriCorps team to organize the largest volunteer effort to date to remove Sahara Mustard from the wildflower fields along Henderson Canyon Rd. It was called The Big Pull and covered hundreds of acres because of the relatively few Sahara Mustard plants per acre to be found this year.

Although confirmation of a “short shelf-life” for the Sahara Mustard seed bank in the ground is good news, it does not mean our work is done. If AmeriCorps and teams of community volunteers had not removed the few Sahara Mustard plants that were to be found in Henderson Canyon this year, those few plants would have germinated next season and produced enough seed to spawn a future bumper crop of Sahara Mustard the following year, given conducive conditions. Vigilance and removal of the Sahara Mustard plants that do pop up season to season continues to be essential if we are to rid selected areas of this invader and defend our perimeter into the future.

Despite this year’s good news about the natural limits of the Sahara Mustard seed bank, the long-term solution to the invasion of our deserts by this pernicious plant remains in the realm of finding a viable biocontrol agent. I am happy to report that our efforts in this direction are well underway. This year UCI graduate student, Daniel Winkler, traveled over 10,000 miles in the United States Southwest collecting over 2000 samples of Sahara Mustard as part of Phase I in a three-phase endeavor to locate a biocontrol agent. DNA has been extracted from the Sahara Mustard samples and is currently being sequenced. The data produced from the sequencing will enable us to determine where and approximately when (and perhaps how many times) Sahara Mustard was introduced into the USA.

For more information about this project, please read TCDC’s white paper, “Seeking Biocontrols to Enable a Long-term Solution for Sahara Mustard (Brassica tournefortii) Invasion in North American Deserts” As we continue this project, we look forward to meeting with our colleagues from the USDA’s European Biologic Control Laboratory to plan for Phases II and III.

I am filled with gratitude for all the efforts made by so many people over the past year who have made all of the above progress possible. The list is long and includes our colleagues at the University of California, Irvine; the Anza-Borrego Foundation; Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, AmeriCorps NCCC; the Desert Protective Council; San Diego Natural History Museum; the USDA European Biologic Control Laboratory, and all of the generous TCDC board members, volunteers, and supporters.

Many thanks,
J. David Garmon, MD
President, TCDC

Fall 2014

 

Anza-Borrego Desert Call to Action!

Back during the Sunrise Powerlink controversy there was a truck with a billboard outside the meeting hall that read, “SDG&E: Bringing you yesterday’s ideas today!” At the time I thought it was a clever twist on an old adage. After reading the recently published “draft” Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP), I can’t think of a more appropriate tag line with the possible exception of “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”

The DRECP (the Plan) has been 5 years in the making and is 8000 pages in length. The Plan covers 22.5 Million acres of Southern California, 268,000 acres of which are in San Diego County (See attached map) It is the work product of the US Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Land Management, the California Energy Commission, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the California Department of Parks and Recreation. Environmental supporters of the Plan include The Nature Conservancy, the Sierra Club, and the Center for Biological Diversity. It is, of course, supported by the major utilities: Sempra, PG&E, and Southern California Edison. As diverse as the above agencies and organizations are, this is only a partial list. The entire list may be found at the DRECP website.

The intention behind the Plan is indisputably laudable: California will lead the nation in addressing climate change by developing substantial electrical generating capacity from renewable sources such as solar, wind, and geothermal. On a hot summer day, California is projected to need 50,000 to 60,000 megawatts of generating capacity to meet demand. The Plan clears the way for 20,000 megawatts of that capacity to come from renewable sources in our deserts.

At first glance, what could make more sense than to harness the sun’s energy in the vast expanses of the desert Southwest? It is technologically possible to build utility-scale wind, solar, and geothermal plants in the deserts and then transmit that energy back to the cities where it is needed. This is the model—large generating plants and long transmission lines—we have always used. It is tried and true. It keeps the lights on. Yes, in the past there may have been some environmental problems with coal-fired plants (CO2 emissions) or nuclear plants (spent fuel) and giant transmission lines, but “it’s for the common good,” so the reasoning has gone for decades. “The environmental sacrifices are worth it.”

Unfortunately, despite its good intentions, the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan is a continuation of the old model of environmental degradation “for the greater good.” Specifically, the Plan paves the way for the construction of huge, utility-scale generating facilities that will be connected via giant transmission lines to cities hundreds of miles away. There will be environmental damage to literally millions of acres within the Plan’s boundaries. There will be the unintended consequences of dust storms arising from scraped desert landscapes, the use of more ground water than originally planned, and the inadvertent “taking” of endangered species and other wildlife. But, as the thinking of the Plan goes, “It will be worth it.”

The good news is there is a new paradigm: an alternative to the course charted by the Plan. The new paradigm is called in-basin, distributed generation, aka rooftop solar. In the five years it has taken to create the “draft” DRECP there have been significant advances made in rooftop solar technology. Prices have decreased and efficiencies have increased. This past July, UCLA’s Luskin Center published a report estimating the amount of generating capacity that could come from rooftop solar just in the Los Angeles area alone is over 19,000 megawatts. Although the Luskin Report did not estimate the generating capacity that exists on roofs in San Diego County, it is reasonable to conclude there would be much more than 1000 megawatts of rooftop capacity in San Diego, thereby equaling, and easily exceeding, the generating capacity goal of 20,000 megawatts of the DRECP.

The chief advantages rooftop solar are: 1) it would eliminate the need to “sacrifice” millions of acres of desert habitat to build “utility-scale” generating plants, 2) because it generates electricity where it is used, rooftop solar would eliminate the need for giant transmission lines that lose electricity every mile along their lengths, 3) rooftop solar would eliminate the unintended consequences associated with utility-scale generating plants sited in the desert that we are only now beginning to learn about such as dust storms arising from scraped desert habitat, utilization of excessive amounts of ground water, and the inevitable “taking” of endangered species and other wildlife as is occurring at Ivanpah.

The DRECP dismisses rooftop solar by putting it in a category called “Alternatives Considered but not carried forward for Detailed Analysis.” The reason given for not doing a detailed analysis of rooftop solar is because doing so would not “provide a streamlined process for the development of utility-scale renewable energy…” (Vol. II, Section 8, Page 9). Thus, the Plan rejects rooftop solar from consideration not because of technical problems, not because of cost, not because it could not meet electrical generation goals, but because it would not lead to the creation of utility-scale production facilities. This rationale implies that anything that does not result in the creation of utility-scale generation facilities is in actuality not an alternative at all.

If you see problems with that logic, try this one: another reason for rejecting in-basin, distributed generation (rooftop solar) is because doing so would not “conserve biological, physical, cultural, social, and scenic values” because it “would not identify and incorporate public lands managed for conservation purposes…” Additionally, the rooftop solar alternative would not “provide for the long-term conservation and management of Covered Species.” (Vol. II, Section 8, Page 9). The perverse rationale implied by the above reasoning is that we cannot pursue conservation goals unless we are simultaneously “sacrificing” millions of acres of desert habitat.

Our friends at the Sierra Club, The Nature Conservancy, etc. have valiantly tried to make the best of a difficult situation—that difficult situation being that it was a foregone conclusion at the beginning of the process 5 years ago that millions of acres of desert habitat would be sacrificed for utility-scale generation facilities. Our friends have tried to conserve what they could, but they bought the embedded assumption that utility-scale plants in the desert were inevitable. They drank the Kool-aid.

One unfortunate outcome of the efforts of our environmentalist friends is that politicians and agency bureaucrats can now say, “The environmental community is really behind this Plan.” And they do say it. Often.

The only thing now standing in the way of the “draft” DRECP becoming our lived reality is you. The Plan was published at the end of September and is taking public comment through January 9, 2015. Without significant input from the public, from you, this juggernaut will proceed relentlessly, sacrificing millions of acres of desert habitat, wasting precious groundwater, degrading air quality, and “taking” endangered species and other wildlife.

You can make known your concerns about the Plan by going to the website (www.drecp.org) and click on “How to Comment” on the Home Page. There are many aspects of the Plan that are worthy of comment, and among them are:

State and federal agencies have made their views known in this Plan. So have the utilities and the large conservation organizations. Now it is your turn.

J. David Garmon, MD
President, TCDC

 

Summer 2014

 

Sahara Mustard Update

It is Labor Day and the temperatures in Borrego Valley remain in the triple digits. During July and August, the monsoonal pattern of afternoon thunderstorms visited the Anza-Borrego Desert and surrounding mountains, causing sporadic local flooding. Fortunately, the temperatures have been too high for the moisture to trigger germination of invasive Sahara Mustard (Brassica tournefortii). The same cannot be said for the biting valley black gnats that have once again made their presence felt in the desert. Ouch!

The last three years have set the stage for a vast experiment involving Sahara Mustard. If you have been reading these updates, you will remember the anecdotal reports of the Sahara Mustard seed bank being particularly short-lived. Specifically, numerous reports have indicated that in areas where Sahara Mustard was not allowed to replenish its seed bank for three consecutive years, the species was effectively eliminated from that area.

The last year in which Sahara Mustard had a banner year was the 2010-2011 growing season. The picture below taken in 2010 along Henderson Canyon Road attests to Sahara Mustard’s profusion and its devastation of the native wildflower fields that year. Since then, however, lack of moisture and high temperatures have conspired to prevent Sahara Mustard from germinating in the vast numbers that it did in 2010-2011. The wildflower fields along Henderson Canyon Road have not seen a profusion of Sahara Mustard for the last three years. Nor have they seen a wildflower bloom, for that matter, also due drought conditions and high temperatures.

BEFORE:

Wildflowers along Henderson Cyn Road

 

The 2008 wildflower bloom along Henderson Canyon Road in the
Anza-Borrego Desert before take-over by Sahara Mustard.

AFTER:

Sahara Mustard infested the wildflower fields in 2010

 

Same location a mere 2 years later after Sahara Mustard infested the
wildflower fields in 2010. Note the dying creosote bushes.
Photo courtesy of Ron Neibrugge www.wildnatureimages.com

This is not to say that Sahara Mustard has been eliminated from Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. There are numerous areas, particularly in the south end of the park, where temperature and moisture was sufficient to allow the germination and growth of Sahara Mustard plants. Additionally, scattered Sahara Mustard was found this year in Coyote Canyon, Sentenac Canyon, and Henderson Canyon just north of de Anza.

The good news is that the numbers of Sahara Mustard plants have been relatively small this year; and many (most?) of those plants were removed by volunteers and our AmeriCorps team before they could produce seeds, thus setting the stage for the current grand experiment.

If our hypothesis is correct—that the Sahara Mustard seed bank becomes depleted after three years of not being replenished by seed production—and if moisture and temperature are conducive to wildflowers (as well as to Sahara Mustard which appears to need very similar conditions), we would expect to see a fantastic display of native wildflowers this spring along Henderson Canyon Road. Let us cross our collective fingers.

If our three-year hypothesis is not correct, and we see Sahara Mustard springing up in vast numbers along Henderson Canyon Road after three years of not replenishing its seed bank, then the critical importance of our nascent biocontrol effort will be underscored. More regarding the biocontrol effort will be included in the next update.

J. David Garmon, MD
President, TCDC

 

Summer 2014

 

500 kV Transmission Lines Threaten
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Given TCDC’s focus on Sahara Mustard during the last three years, many may be surprised to learn that the idea of creating TCDC grew out of the battle to stop Sunrise Powerlink. Neighbors in the Tubb Canyon area came to believe the growing number of challenges involved in defending the community and the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park from significant damage—whether from an invasive species or from human- generated projects such as the Sunrise Powerlink and the Ocotillo Wind Farm—far exceeded what any individual could do alone. TCDC was subsequently created as a vehicle for focusing the efforts and energies of all members of the Anza-Borrego Desert community who are interested in preserving the environment and quality of life that draw so many to the region, as tourists, residents, snow birders and retirees.

As most know, TCDC’s efforts to date have been focused on addressing the ecological disaster caused by Sahara Mustard—a threat to the great biodiversity of our region, as well as a threat to tourism and to the local economy. However, today there is yet another assault on the horizon similar to the threat that initially founded TCDC.

The closing of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) has, according to the California Energy Commission, created a “critical need” for new 500 kV transmission lines in southern California. As a result, the California Energy Commission tapped Aspen Environmental (the same consultants who worked on the Sunrise Powerlink) to create a Feasibility Analysis of new, 500 kV transmission lines through our region. One of the proposed lines goes right through the heart of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

This Feasibility Analysis was published in May 2014. You may read it in its entirety by clicking here.

It is a lengthy document, but we recommend that you pay special attention to pages 46-50 that describe Alternative 5, that would route 500 kV transmission lines in the State Park. The Analysis acknowledges that placing 500 kV towers through the Park would be a “very challenging” route, but deems placing the lines underground as merely “challenging.”

TCDC believes that running 500 kV lines through the heart of the State Park, whether overhead or underground, will compromise the integrity of the Park, an incredible asset placed in the public trust. The Analysis itself notes that if such a transmission line were constructed there would be loss of view shed in and around scenic regions and designated wilderness areas, negative impacts on big horn sheep and other “sensitive” species, construction noise and traffic, and “corona noise” in remote and quiet areas.

TCDC will be opposing as vigorously as possible, and as early as possible, the siting of 500 kV transmission lines through the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. If you are interested in participating in this opposition, please add your name and email address to the TCDC listserve to receive the latest information. As always, your financial support of this effort can be made online.

Together we can make a difference. We have done it before and we can do it again.

J. David Garmon, MD
President, TCDC

 

SPRING 2014

The AmeriCorps Silver 6 Team has arrived in Borrego Valley and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (ABDSP); it must be springtime!

Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy and our co-sponsor, the Anza-Borrego Foundation (ABF), are pleased to host a National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) AmeriCorps team for the third year in a row. AmeriCorps Silver 6 Team is comprised of seven exceptional young persons, ages 18-24. They left their headquarters in Sacramento, California, on January 15th, arriving in Borrego Springs the next day.

On Friday, January 17th the team attended orientation about the Anza-Borrego Desert and projects they will be working on for the two months they are with us. ABDSP Ranger Steve Bier instructed the team in desert safety, and Larry Hendrickson introduced the team to three invasive species of concern in and around the state park, including Sahara Mustard. The team was treated to the now "traditional" lunch at Calico's, followed by a "hands-on" introduction to desert flora, including invasive species such as Sahara Mustard and fountain grass. Orientation day ended with a get together and delicious dinner for the team and hosts at the de Anza Country Club. Welcome Silver 6!

Given the extensive flooding of August and September 2013, there was reason to believe this year might yield an abundant crop of Sahara Mustard, comparable to the 2010-2011 season, particularly within flash flood washes and inundated flood plains. Fortunately, the temperatures last fall were too high to promote mustard germination; and now, four months later, there is insufficient moisture for a "bumper crop" of mustard. This constellation of circumstances puts us in a very interesting position, as this could be the third consecutive season in which Sahara Mustard fails to replenish or advance its seed bank.

Although the rigorous scientific studies have not yet been done, available anecdotal information indicates the Sahara Mustard seed bank degrades dramatically in the space of three years. This relatively short "shelf life" of Sahara Mustard seeds contrasts greatly with the seeds of native winter annual wildflowers and some short-lived perennial plants that have been shown to remain viable in the ground for decades. Perhaps weather is setting the stage for a collapse of the Sahara Mustard seed bank and the return of our beautiful winter and spring wildflowers. Time and weather will tell.

So far this spring, there is little in the way of Sahara Mustard to be found across Borrego Valley or the state park. There have been sightings of mature, healthy mustard plants in all of the main desert washes in Borrego Valley (outflows of Coyote, Glorietta, Palm, and Tubb canyons), but the number of plants is minimal compared to the bumper crop of the 2010-2011 season. There has yet to be a sighting of Sahara Mustard in the open desert where there has been little or no rainfall or abundant flood water.

All of the above is good news to those of us working for the demise of Sahara Mustard. The few Sahara Mustard plants in the valley are directly in the sights of AmeriCorps' Silver 6 Team and the many volunteers monitoring the washes and "all the usual places." If the current dry conditions continue, Sahara Mustard will not be able to produce a massive seed distribution again this season, raising the possibility of a dramatic, multi-season depletion of its seed bank.

If we are lucky in the sense that Sahara Mustard is unable to replenish its seed bank in this third, and hopefully critical, year, the war will not be won; but we will be in a vastly improved position to remove subsequent plants that will appear in future years. It will be like turning the clock back... five years?... ten years?...to that time when this invasive plant could be numbered in the thousands instead of the millions. We have demonstrated we have the resources to deal with the thousands. It is the millions that present a tougher challenge.

We remain grateful for your support of TCDC's efforts. Together, we have made a difference. We will continue our work to restore the wildflower fields and protect the irreplaceable Anza-Borrego Desert.

Stay tuned,

J. David Garmon, MD
President, TCDC

 

SUMMER / Fall 2013

Although it looked for a while as if the 2012-2013 Sahara Mustard growing season would replicate the explosion of invasive mustard we saw in the Borrego Valley during the 2010-2011 season, the threatened profusion of Sahara mustard did not materialize this past spring. We dodged another bullet!

The lack of timely rain and high temperatures were not to the liking of germinating Sahara mustard, or to the liking of most native wildflowers for that matter. The Sahara Mustard plants that did sprout were few and far between, generally very small, and produced few seeds. By germinating earlier than most native plants, the Sahara Mustard seedlings caught the brunt of the adverse conditions.

For those locations in the valley where Sahara Mustard did germinate, AmeriCorps Blue 6 team, under the leadership of TCDC and the Anza Borrego Desert State Park, moved in to eradicate those plants. The areas producing the most Sahara mustard this year tended to be in the natural arroyos and canyon drainages (e.g. Tubb Canyon Wash, Palm Canyon Wash, Plum Canyon Wash, etc.) and along the shoulders of some roads such as S-22. You can see some of the locations the Blue 6 team worked by clicking on the TCDC Mustard Map.

The AmeriCorps Blue 6 team arrived in Borrego Springs on April 2nd and set up camp in Mongolian yurts located in Palm Canyon Campground. Not to be outdone by their predecessor team from last year, Silver 5 team, the members of Blue 6 also encountered hurricane force winds within the first week of their arrival. During the night, Blue 6 team watched 90+ mph winds take down the three yurts that had survived last year’s winds. Fortunately the three newer, reinforced yurts where the team was staying survived this year’s winds. Blue 6 team departed Borrego Springs on May 24th after a farewell dinner, having made a huge dent in the population of Sahara Mustard plants that had germinated in the areas where they worked. Read about the remarkable members of Blue 6 and their adventures in the Borrego Valley on the AmeriCorps Team 2013 News page.

In early July TCDC received notice that it had been selected as the 2013 AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) Pacific Region Sponsor of the Year. This was a totally unexpected and special honor. At the AmeriCorps NCCC Pacific Region graduation ceremony on July 23rd in Sacramento I had the pleasure of receiving the award on behalf of TCDC, the Anza-Borrego Foundation (ABF), and the folks in the Borrego Springs community who had contributed so generously of their time and effort to make the program a success.

Even though summer is ending in most parts of the country, the temperatures remain in the triple digits in the Anza-Borrego Desert. The monsoonal rains and associated flash floods of August have begun, and it is not clear what ground moisture this early in the 2013-2014 season might do vis-à-vis Sahara Mustard. There are reports in the literature of Sahara Mustard germinating after autumn rains and along flash flood channels. If that were to happen however, the nascent plants may not survive subsequent high temperatures. What we observed in May of this year is that triple digit temperatures are often fatal for young Sahara Mustard plants long before they are able to produce seeds. Timing is everything. We have observed that the desert can prove inhospitable even to Sahara Mustard!

During the end-of-summer quiet time, TCDC is gearing up for the next growing season, 2013-2014. Again in partnership with ABF,we hope to sponsor another team from AmeriCorps during the January – March timeframe. We continue to forge relationships with friends and colleagues at the University of California, Cooperative Extension; the University of California, Irvine; and the Steele / Burnand Desert Research Center. And, while we continue to focus on our “ground game” of removing Sahara Mustard from specific areas of public and private lands in the Borrego Valley, TCDC remains eager to explore and support the much larger goal of discovering methods for eradication of Sahara Mustard across the entire desert Southwest.

What can you do?

Use the TCDC website to learn how to recognize Sahara Mustard in its various stages of development. Teach one friend what you have learned about Sahara Mustard, and ask that friend to teach one more. Ask everyone who has learned about Sahara Mustard to “adopt” a patch of land somewhere in the valley. Your patch can be along a roadway, in a neighborhood, or at a church or school. Once you have adopted your patch, go to the TCDC website and put it on the Mustard Map so others can begin to coordinate their efforts with you. In this way we can begin to develop a volunteer patchwork of eradication projects throughout the valley.

Preliminary research from the University of California, Cooperative Extension indicates that if Sahara Mustard plants in an infested area can be prevented from producing seeds for three consecutive seasons, the seed bank in that area becomes depleted and that area is essentially free of Sahara Mustard. Although we may not yet have enough “mustard busters” to cover the entire Borrego Valley, there are already hundreds working toward this goal. I hope you will join this effort in any way you can.

I remain grateful for your support of TCDC's efforts. Together, we are making a difference.

Many thanks,

J. David Garmon, M.D.
President, TCDC

Spring 2013

Sahara Mustard sprung up in the last few weeks of February across the Borrego Valley! The spring of 2011 saw an explosion of Sahara Mustard throughout the valley. In the spring of 2012 we essentially got a free pass due to arid conditions. No such luck this year, and depending on rainfall and temperatures in the next couple of weeks, we could see a repeat of 2011.

Given that Sahara Mustard seeds are spread largely by human activity it is no surprise that seedlings can be seen springing up along the shoulders of most roads and pathways, including Borrego Springs Road, Henderson Canyon Road, DiGiorgio Road, and Borrego Valley Road. Sahara Mustard’s preference for sprouting in “disturbed soils” explains its appearance on the shoulders of roads and also in washes such as Borrego Palm Canyon and Coyote Canyon.

For now, the best response to keep Sahara Mustard from invading even more desert habitat is to pull it before it has time to produce seeds. This means pulling it out of the ground while it is still just a rosette of 5 or 6 leaves or even after it has raised a central stalk and has begun to flower. In these early stages of development Sahara Mustard can be easily pulled out of the ground, the taproot broken off, and the remains left on the desert floor. Each plant destroyed in this fashion represents up to 15,000 seeds that will never come into existence to spread across the wildflower fields.

Later in the season, after the plant has flowered, produced seed pods, and the seeds have ripened to a scarlet red, it is still useful to remove Sahara Mustard. When such mature plants are pulled out of the ground they must be carefully placed in heavy duty plastic bags for disposal, taking care not to spread pods or seeds around in the process of pulling, bagging, and disposing.

What can you do?

Use the TCDC website to learn how to recognize Sahara Mustard in its various stages of development. Teach one friend what you have learned about Sahara Mustard, and ask that friend to teach one more. Ask everyone who has learned about Sahara Mustard to “adopt” a patch of land somewhere in the valley. Your patch can be along a roadway, in a neighborhood, or at a church or school. Once you have adopted your patch, go to the TCDC website and put it on the Mustard Map so others can begin to coordinate their efforts with you. In this way we can begin to develop a volunteer patchwork of eradication projects throughout the valley.

Preliminary research from the University of California, Cooperative Extension indicates that if Sahara Mustard plants in an infested area can be prevented from producing seeds for three consecutive seasons, the seed bank in that area becomes depleted and that area is essentially free of Sahara Mustard. Although we may not yet have enough “mustard busters” to cover the entire Borrego Valley, there are already hundreds working toward this goal. I hope you will join this effort in any way you can.

The survival of the Anza-Borrego Desert’s wildflowers and wildlife depend upon all of us.

Many thanks,

J. David Garmon, M.D.
President, TCDC

Fall 2012

The Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy (TCDC) quietly celebrated its first birthday this summer—June 6th. As with all newborns, TCDC was busy in its first year—learning to take its first few steps and utter its first words. I hope you will bear with this proud parent as I describe some of the developmental milestones TCDC achieved in its first year.

TCDC was organized by Tubb Canyon Bajada neighbors and conceived as an organization that would allow individuals, families, foundations, service organizations, etc. to coordinate and focus their efforts to meet the threat posed by Sahara Mustard to the Borrego Valley and, by its efforts in the Anza-Borrego Desert, help stop this highly destructive species across the entire desert Southwest. To fulfill its mission, TCDC has developed three main areas of focus: education, research, and the eradication of Sahara Mustard. The following paragraphs describe TCDC’s first steps in each of these areas.

Beginning with education, in September 2012 TCDC launched the most comprehensive, informative website on the Internet dedicated to the issue of Sahara Mustard (www.tubbcanyondesertconservancy.org). When you navigate to the Sahara Mustard tab you will find more information about Sahara Mustard than perhaps you ever wanted to know—descriptions and pictures of Sahara Mustard in its various stages of development, as well links to the most recent academic research. If you tire of learning about Sahara Mustard, you can navigate to the Desert Gallery tab for stunning photos of desert landscapes, wildflowers, and wildlife that illustrates the natural beauty and biodiversity TCDC is striving to protect for future generations. TCDC’s website has been lovingly designed by board member Lori Paul and webmaster Jeffrey George, both of whom have dedicated countless hours to its nourishment and well-being.With regard to research, TCDC was able to provide a grant to researchers at the University of California, Cooperative Extension to investigate best practices for the eradication of Sahara Mustard. This research was scheduled to occur in the 2011-2012 growing season; but because winter annuals, of which Sahara Mustard is one, did not germinate and grow in sufficient enough numbers this past spring, the research was postponed until the 2012-2013 growing season.

As a prelude to future research TCDC has, in its first year, developed a web-based application for smartphones that allows “citizen scientists” to map their sectors of the Borrego Valley with information about the presence or absence of Sahara Mustard. You may find this tool at Mustard Map App. Anyone with a smart phone can now report the status of any particular area with regard to Sahara Mustard. They can describe whether or not mustard has been removed and whether or not the area will be monitored for the appearance of mustard in the future. The results of the data collected by citizens can be viewed on TCDC’s Mustard Tracking Map.

And finally, with regard to eradication of Sahara Mustard, last fall TCDC applied for, and was selected to receive, an AmeriCorps team to assist with the physical eradication of mustard. You can read about the individuals of this team and their adventures in the Borrego Valley on the AmeriCorps section of the News pages on this website. The ten members of this team were able to clear 75 acres of Sahara Mustard in those few areas of the Anza Borrego Desert State Park where mustard did sprout this past spring. Moreover, this fantastic group of young people took TCDC’s information about Sahara Mustard into the local community, directly meeting with over 10% of the residents of Borrego Springs. As a result of these meetings, eight ongoing, community-led eradication programs were established, covering nearly 2000 acres in and around Borrego Springs. You can see the location of these projects if you check out the TCDC Mustard Tracking Map
under the Sahara Mustard tab.

If it takes a village to raise a child, then it takes a whole community to grow and develop a successful non-profit conservancy such as TCDC. In its first year TCDC reached out to the community, and the community reached back with incredible generosity and care. The generosity has taken many forms, ranging from direct financial support of individuals and foundations to the many businesses and organizations in Borrego Springs who have supported our efforts with in-kind donations. You can see the names of many of TCDC’s early supporters if you navigate to the Supporters page.

Without the generosity of friends, neighbors and other organizations, TCDC would not have survived its first year; but with such generosity and support TCDC is thriving and is entering its second year with even greater hopes and aspirations. The Board of TCDC is profoundly grateful for the encouragement and participation by friends and neighbors in the Anza-Borrego Desert community who have made this first year of TCDC’s existence possible and more successful than we dared to dream.

TCDC is not resting on its first year laurels… or on the bags of Sahara Mustard we have pulled! We look forward to more productive efforts to eradicate invasive mustard and protect the fragile desert during the next growing season. Stay tuned for news regarding future AmeriCorps and other significant partnerships; opportunities for involvement in Sahara Mustard mapping, removal and “citizen scientist” data collection; TCDC participation in relevant symposia; and expanded education, research and mustard eradication projects. We encourage you to be a part of the time-critical fight against the invasion of Sahara Mustard.

The TCDC website stands ready to provide you with broad spectrum of information, ideas, tools and ways to help. Together we can stop Sahara Mustard and assure that desert wildflowers will continue to bloom for our enjoyment and that of future generations.

Yours in gratitude,

J. David Garmon, M.D.
President, TCDC

 

Winter 2011

Neighbors of Tubb Canyon are pleased to announce the creation of the Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy!

This non-profit conservancy was born out of the recognition that we needed to organize to protect the desert we love. A primary goal is to establish and maintain a defensive perimeter against invasive, foreign Sahara Mustard. In other parts of the Anza-Borrego Desert, this aggressive plant has recently wiped out hundreds of acres of native wildflowers, shrubs, cacti and the animals that depend on that native vegetation.

The Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy (TCDC) will conduct direct Sahara Mustard removal in an ecologically responsible manner. TCDC will also be an educational resource in the battle against Sahara Mustard, and will support research into methods of eradication. Based on our field experience, the Conservancy will refine a model for successfully defending native flora and fauna from Sahara Mustard in and around the Tubb Canyon area, intending that this model may be exported to other areas of the Borrego Valley and the greater Sonoran Desert.

Please join us in actively fighting the invasive Sahara Mustard that threatens to bring a real "Silent Spring" to the Anza-Borrego Desert and other deserts of the Southwest. Sahara Mustard quickly multiplies to overshadow, poison, and rob water from the wildflower fields that bring so many visitors from around the world to this region. Eventually, Sahara Mustard can kill even tough creosote, cholla and barrel cacti, literally taking over the desert and turning it into a mustard wasteland devoid of the biodiversity needed to sustain desert wildlife, from butterflies to lizards, pocket mice to owls, hummingbirds to bobcats, roadrunners, quail, and all the others. Without the wildflowers, shrubs and cacti in our landscape, there will be no bird songs, no chorus of frogs on spring nights... and no human visitors... in a decimated ecosystem.

This does not need to be the fate of the Anza-Borrego Desert! Those of us in the vicinity of Tubb Canyon organized ourselves, volunteers and workers during early 2011 to pull mustard from well over 100 acres of open desert, including the State Park south of Tubb Canyon Road. We intend to hold this perimeter and expand the regions now free of Sahara Mustard by additional "mustard busting" sessions each growing season. Over time, less and less maintenance pulling will be necessary to keep our desert free of this botanical scourge.

There is no magic herbicide or technique that will stop the spread of Sahara Mustard. Ignoring its spread will only result in disaster. Currently, the most effective method of eradicating the weed's "seed bank" over time is by hand-pulling mustard plants from among our native desert flowers and cacti. It seems an overwhelming task, but it is not hard to do. Children can help. Neighbors can help. Volunteers and teams of workers can help. Many hands pulling mustard makes for light, and effective, work. We have cleared much of the Tubb Canyon Bajada in just a few weekends and we will continue to clear and defend the rest of our land.

We encourage everyone to do the same. Defend and restore the Anza-Borrego Desert! Join our cadre of "Mustard Busters," clear around your own home, hotel, or favorite patches of wildflowers. Every single mustard plant pulled is one more plant that will not produce thousands of tiny red seeds. We can help the Sonoran Desert survive; however, we must begin this winter and continue into next spring, before it becomes too late and mustard seeds beget thousands more mustard plants.

There are many ways you can help: Learn about Sahara Mustard, how it reproduces, what it looks like, where it grows, and how to pull it properly. Adopt a block in town or a stretch of favorite roadside, then report your observations and project on TCDC's Mustard Map App. Donate to TCDC, so that we can fund research into mustard eradication and support hard-working crews to clear the desert. Your contributions to TCDC are tax-deductible..

The State Park cannot stop mustard alone. There is no government agency who will rescue the desert. The time has come for all of us to work together to save the Anza-Borrego Desert... before it is too late.

David Garmon, President & Co-founder Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy

 

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