Supes accept water plan plan for IWV water

By JAMES SIMMONS

News Review Correspondent

Kern County supervisors voted 5-0 on March 4 to receive the Kern County Planning Department’s “Resource Opportunity Plan: Water Availability and Conservation” and adopt the document’s recommendations for action.

This plan was produced from a yearlong effort by Kern County 1st District Supervisor Mick Gleason, the county planning department, the hydrogeology firm Todd Ground-water, and many citizens and stakeholders from throughout the Indian Wells Valley.

A survey and remarks at public meetings revealed groundwater resources to be the highest concern of local residents. Todd Ground-water was tasked with a review and summary of all extant water studies on the valley’s groundwater, plus relevant recommendations.

After several public meetings, the Kern planning department last week presented the supervisors with its best effort at understanding the issues and what could be done about them.

The report described a condition of our water basin being “closed,” one side to a long-held geological argument over recharge rates and any paths for water to exit the basin other than evaporation from the China Lake playa.

The report, a compilation and aggregation of data from dozens of source material, some dating back many decades, included changing measurements of well depths from local producers. The review by Todd also stated that the groundwater basin was in overdraft and had reached a technical status termed “critical.”

Todd presented information, charts and maps that illustrated the current groundwater pumping and a forecast of how much more water would be pumped by agricultural operations as recently planted pistachio trees grow to maturity.

The report described a situation where the overdraft, the excess of pumping over recharge, could not be brought back into balance with conservation methods or elimination of farming in the valley. The one solution appeared to be importing water from elsewhere.

As to a plan for going forward, the county planning department offered suggestions, including an urgency ordinance to stop new agricultural well permits, an idea discarded by county counsel and the supervisors as much too likely to bring on expensive and unproductive litigation.

Another suggestion was to build a “Indian Wells Valley Specific Plan,” that would build rezoning and restrictions on land use into the county’s general plan. This effort would be informed and guided by a series of stakeholder and public forums and workshops to ensure a well-crafted, workable plan.

The board of supervisors did not entertain discussion on importing water. That is one of the most sensitive issues in California, especially lately with the drought laying to waste croplands throughout the Central Valley.

Distribution of water is also one of the most political issues in the state with the major distributors and users constantly jockeying for water rights, water purchases and water storage venues.

Water interests on Kern County’s west side are among the largest and strongest players. Here on the east side of the county — not so much.

Water importation into the Indian Wells Valley could be done, with transfer, wheeling (moving), financial and infrastructure issues resolved. But that is a longer range proposition perhaps best addressed after the Environmental Impact Report is completed in 18 months for the valley’s specific plan.

“The board reached the best decision,” said Gleason, “It was really the only decision we could make. Now we have time to develop a strategy. Changes in land use will dramatically improve the prognosis for water usage in the future.”

Gleason acknowledged that the report wasn’t perfect and may contain a few flaws, noting the testimony of IWV farmers and ranchers at the board meeting in Bakersfield. “But we have a snapshot, and it’s a good starting place as we commit a quarter million dollars to do this EIR.”

The six-month effort to guide, shape and inform the process going forward begins immediately, with the county issuing requests for proposals from experts to conduct the EIR.

“Our focus is on long-range success — safe, secure and sustainable — water supplies for future generations. So, we must have a plan. Without a plan, we could be subject to adjudication of water by a judge, or even a future negative BRAC impact. We must have a plan,” said Gleason.

Story First Published: 2014-03-12