Kern County announces changes to

By JAMES SIMMONS News Review Correspondent

The Kern County Planning and Community Development Department has announced several schedule changes to the effort attempting to understand the status of groundwater beneath the surface of the Indian Wells Valley.

County planners say it is still premature to send any final report and recommendations for action to the Board of Supervisors. Therefore, the long-scheduled presentation on Dec. 10 will shift into the first quarter of 2014, possibly on Feb. 25.

Increasing pressure from concerns by private well owners, water districts, agricultural interests, developers, the Navy at China Lake, environmental groups and the Searles Valley chemical operations over the quantity and the quality of valley groundwater motivated the county last summer to review extant scientific studies.

The county retained Todd Engineers of Alameda, Calif., a consulting firm specializing in groundwater studies, to gather as many studies, agency reports, scientific papers, university investigations and anecdotal evidence as could be found, glean solid and pertinent information and produce a comprehensive, omnibus study.

Todd was also charged with advancing a consensus opinion derived from the data reviewed and developing potential directions and actions to be presented to the Board of Supervisors, in part based on substantial input from the public.

An aggressive schedule, an abundance of data from more than two dozen authoritative studies, a surge of concern over potential economic impacts, continuing public comment and higher levels of necessary technical interpretation led the county and its consultants to increase the scrutiny needed to achieve the study’s goals.

These added requirements resulted in adjustments to the release date for public review and comment and for finishing the document for presentation to county supervisors.

“We have more technical data to review, and our scientific findings need additional refinement,” said Lorelei H. Oviatt, Director, Kern County Planning and Community Development Department, during a discussion Monday with the News Review. “Without the necessary reviews, it would be premature to go the board in December as originally envisioned.”

Oviatt sees the process moving through the year-end holidays and into the new year. “We believe everything will be in order to obtain a first quarter 2014 completion,” she said. “We are looking at a tentative date of Feb. 25 for a presentation to the county board of supervisors.”

Responding to some confusion over continuing public input, she said the Planning Department would receive commentary and information all the way up to the board of supervisors hearing next year.

“The earlier comment cut-off date of Nov. 18 was part of the mandated 45-day review period to allow for staff response in the final document,” Oviatt said.

“But staff will continue to receive all input the public wants to contribute.”

Story First Published: 2013-11-27