To the Editor: Mutual calls for public input

The following letter was addressed to Kern County Supervisor Mick Gleason on March 1, 2017:

I am informed that following the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority (Authority) meeting on February 16, 2017, you proposed a meeting among Mojave Mutual Water Company (Mojave), Meadowbrook Mutual Water Company (Meadowbrook) , Searles Valley Minerals (SVM), Director Peter Brown (representing Indian Wells Valley Water District) and yourself to discuss financing options for the Authority and the development of a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP). You requested that only principals and technical representatives attend the meeting, and attorneys not be present. We have discussed the meeting with our client and with Meadowbrook’s counsel, Derek Hoffman. Based on these discussions, we feel there is benefit in having both Mr. Hoffman and me present at the meeting.

In addition to discussions of (1) financing options, we also request that the subjects for discussion include (2) stakeholder engagement with the Authority and (3) the development of the GSP for the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Basin (Basin). We are concerned that the Policy Advisory Committee (PAC) and Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) have not been formed and that the bylaws approved at the Authority’s Feb. 16 meeting would be a to-be-hired Water Resources Manager in charge of developing a GSP for the Basin instead of the PAC and TAC. This is an apparent departure from the collaborative approach that was previously represented to stakeholders by you and the Authority’s Board of Directors.

At the Kern County Board of Supervisors meeting on Jan. 26, 2016, you stated that the job of the stakeholder committee — at the time referred to as the Groundwater Sustainability Plan Development Committee — “will be to develop the recommendations, proposals and opinions so that we can move forward to create something and make it happen.” You stated that your goal was not to defer or push off the mutual water companies and the Public Utilities Commission-regulated companies, and your belief was that we cannot fix our groundwater problems without the full engagement of the water users. We understood your goal and representation to be to create a stakeholder committee that would guide the development of the GSP. We are supportive of such an approach and believe that the water challenges facing Indian Wells Valley can only be solved by all parties working together — all for one and one for all!

The then-called GSP Development Committee has since evolved to the yet-to-be-formed PAC and TAC. As we mentioned in our letter to the Authority’s Board on Feb. 14, 2017, the bylaws depart from the draft PAC Charter within the Authority’s November staff packet, which stated that “[t]he PAC is the primary policy advisory to the Board” and that “[t]he PAC will guide GSP preparation and implementation, with assistance from a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), a technical consultant, facilitator and program manager.” The bylaws now state that a Water Resources Manager “will be responsible for preparing and implementing the GSP.”

We are not opposed to the retention of a Water Resource Manager, but the Water Resource Manager should be an assistant to the PAC and TAC, not a stand-alone developer of the GSP. In fact, the TAC itself could develop much of the technical content of the GSP using internal resources, notably in-house technical staff (e.g. IWVWD, SVM) and consultants to various parties represented on the TAC (e.g. Parker Groundwater, Aquilogic, Kennedy Jenks). Such a process would not only ensure greater stakeholder involvement in developing the GSP, but would also minimize the costs associated with such development.

The direction that the Authority is now going is to hire a Water Resource Manager, have that manager develop a draft GSP and other aspects of management, presumptively consult with the PAC and TAC on the draft GSP and then forward the proposed GSP for approval by the Authority’s Board. If the PAC and/or TAC disagree with the Water Resource Manager’s opinions and recommendations, those views can be easily disregarded as contrary to the expertise and opinions of the Water Resource Manager. This is a recipe for unnecessary conflict. The better and far more collaborative approach is to have the Water Resources Manager act as a facilitator and assistant to PAC and TAC with the locus of “recommendations, proposals and opinions” (your words) concerning future groundwater management in the valley resting with the PAC and TAC, not the Water Resource Manager. Likewise, the PAC and TAC should have an opportunity to review applicants for the Water Resource Manager position and provide a recommendation to the Authority’s Board concerning the preferred consultant to reserve in this role.

We also understand that you would like to discuss financial proposals at the meeting with you and Director Brown. We welcome hearing your ideas. Ultimately, decisions concerning financial approaches should involve all water users in a forum open to all stakeholders (i.e., the PAC). We anticipate that the likely funding mechanism for the GSP development will be a groundwater extraction fee. See Water Code Subsection 10730. Because the fee will be levied broadly among Basin groundwater users, the PAC should discuss the amount, timing and other aspects of the fee, with recommendations concerning the fee then forwarded for consideration by the Authority’s Board.

We look forward to meeting with you. We hope we can develop consensus to ensure that the Basin water users have a meaningful role in the development of the GSP and other critical aspects of groundwater management in the Basin and that the GSP development process begins in a constructive and collaborative manner. I can assist in scheduling a date and time to meet. If your office would kindly provide some available dates for you, Director Brown and any other representatives of the Authority you would like to attend, I will coordinate for Meadowbrook an Mojave to find a workable date and time. In the interest of timely progress, we feel the meeting should occur prior to the Authority’s March meeting. We are also happy to meet at the County’s administrative office if desired.

Thank you for your consideration.

Russell M. McGlothlin

Story First Published: 2017-03-31