Directors call for public workshop

IWV groundwater authority bylaws under fire at water district board meeting

By BRIAN COSNER, News Review Staff Writer

The Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority bylaws were again the hot discussion topic during the IWV Water District Board meeting. The IWVGA, now officially the Groundwater Sustainability Agency for the valley, partially approved the bylaws last month, pending further development of the language on the role of committees.

Members of the public have been very vocal over the last several months regarding the importance of having invested and empowered Policy and Technical Advisory Committees to the GSA Board. The public has also pressured the board to make good on promises to include certain stakeholders by name, specifically large agricultural users like Meadowbrook Farms and industrial users like Searles Valley Minerals.

When the IWVGA approved the bylaws in March, the motion included arranging a special workshop meeting to discuss Article 5, the section including committees. But the next regular meeting is scheduled for April 20, and there is still no news of a workshop.

“We discussed that the workshop would be prior to the GSA meeting, and that hasn’t happened yet,” said Director Chuck Griffin. “I would still like to see that happen. Or I would like to see the workshop take place instead of the regular GSA meeting.”

Director Ron Kicinski and Vice President Chuck Cordell were the only other directors present during the meeting. Director Don Cortichiato and President Peter Brown, who represents IWVWD on the GSA Board, were absent.

Griffin moved that the district ask the GSA to hold the workshop meeting in place of its regular meeting on April 20, and that the meeting also be moved to the evening (instead of the regular 10 a.m. meeting time) so that more of the public can attend.

“I would like to see progress,” he said. “I do not believe we can make any type of movement forward at the next meeting until this workshop happens.”

Kicinski agreed that the workshop needed to happen, but didn’t think it would be reasonable to request they change the nature of the the GSA’s regular meeting.

“To sit here and say ‘change your meeting to a workshop’ – I don’t think that will happen,” said Kicinski. “But I think we can say we wouldn’t support a vote on finalizing anything until there’s a workshop.”

“I just want to see the workshop happen,” said Griffin. “I think it’s crazy that it hasn’t happened yet. We’re always saying ‘rush, rush, rush,’ but now we’re going to be set back a month because the workshop hasn’t happened.”

The board approved 3-0 a letter declaring that the water district would not support any modifications to Article 5 until after the workshop was held.

Members of the public had additional concerns regarding the GSA.

Judie Decker said the board’s committee applications had no deadlines or other information regarding the roles or responsibilities of the committees.

“They keep talking about stakeholder involvement, but the stakeholders are blindfolded,” she said.

“There’s no set of guidelines for the process,” added Don Decker. “Who really would have the enthusiasm to apply for a position that is this unknown? It is absolutely critical to define what those positions are actually supposed to be doing.”

“It’s almost like they’re trying to put the cart before the horse,” said Kicinski.

“What you’re hearing tonight is the reason we put so much work into the bylaws,” said Mike Neel during public comment. Neel was a member of the “Ridgecrest panel,” a group of citizens and some elected officials that scrutinized the bylaws and suggested many changes to the GSA.

Neel added that he also took issue with Kern County’s Alan Christensen, deputy chief CAO for water resources, using state fines as “scare tactics” to push the bylaws through.

Neel said he sent an email to Christensen asking if he really thought the state would begin levying fines if we didn’t have a Groundwater Sustainability Plan ready to go by the exact deadline date in 2020. According to Neel, Christensen replied that it probably wouldn’t happen – but that wasn’t the message he signaled during public discussion.

Kicinski and Mayor Peggy Breeden were also criticized for using premature numbers from the state to describe fees that could potentially be applied for failing to adhere to state conservation requirements through the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

Breeden, who was present during the meeting said Neel was incorrect and that “those were not scare tactics.

“That was a notice of public hearing and those were the fees that were going to be charged. If that’s scary, then so be it.”

“I have to disagree with Peggy,” said Elaine Meade. “They were kind of scare tactics. It was stated that ‘these are the fees that are going to be charged,’ but they hadn’t been discussed yet. The paper said those fees were going to be proposed. They were examples. Not set fees.

“But how many people are going to go to the Department of Water Resources website and pull that information up? When you present something to the public, that’s what the people are going to believe. So when you say ‘this is what could happen,’ you don’t give the whole picture.”

Kicinski said it’s still possible that the draft was approved by the state. We won’t know until it is made public in May.

Meetings of the IWV Water District and the GSA are open to the public. Water District meetings are the second Monday of each month, 6 p.m. at the district office. The GSA meets the third Thursday of each month, 10 a.m. at City Hall.

Story First Published: 2017-04-14