GSA grows policy committee membership

Objections arise in process for selecting Water Resources Manager

By BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

The Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority approved most of the Policy Advisory Committee membership during the authority’s regular meeting last week. The IWVGA board has long stated that its Policy and Technical Advisory Committees would be doing the “heavy lifting” in complying with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

As per SGMA, the IWVGA serves as the groundwater sustainability agency for the valley and is tasked with forming a Groundwater Sustainability Plan by June 2020. SGMA requires GSPs, which will be reviewed by the state Water Resources Control Board, to bring all dropping water tables in California basins to “zero decline” by 2040.

The chairman of the multi-agency GSA board is Kern County 1st District Supervisor Mick Gleason. Gleason, Ridgecrest Mayor Peggy Breeden and IWV Water District President Peter Brown comprise the “big three” of the board. Supervisors Matt Kingsley and Robert Lovingood of Inyo and San Bernardino counties also sit on the board. Representatives from the Bureau of Land Management and China Lake also hold nonvoting advisory seats.

The PAC now has 10 members: Pat Quist (small agriculture), Carol Wilson and Scott O’Neil (business interests), Wes Katzenstein and Lyle Fisher (domestic well owners), Nick Panzer (residential customer), Mojave Pistachio’s Rod Stievfvater and Meadowbrook’s Edward Imsand (large agriculture), Donna Thomas (East Kern County Resource Conservation District) and Steve Godard (industrial user).

The PAC also includes nonvoting representatives for GSA board members: Don Zdeba (IWVWD), Brian Longbottom (China Lake) and Ryan Klausch (BLM).

Renee Westa-Lusk was mentioned as a candidate for the second residential user seat, with endorsements from both Gleason and Breeden, but Kern County Chief Administrative Officer for Water Resources Alan Christensen said that staff needed to revisit her paperwork to make sure she qualified as a residential customer of a public water agency.

“And it turns out that she does qualify,” said Christensen in a later interview. “It’s likely that her name will be back on the agenda for next month.”

“2020 is going to be here sooner than we think it is,” said Stan Rajtora during public comment. Rajtora is also Thomas’s alternate as an EKCRCD representative. He said he’s glad the PAC is finally taking shape, but added that the board needs to plan the committee’s first meeting. “We need to start making some progress.”

The PAC will meet at the discretion of the GSA board and will work in concert with a water resources manager to provide input and recommendations to the board “in support of actions that facilitate bringing the basin into compliance with SGMA,” according to the IWVGA bylaws.

The board is still working on hiring an individual or firm as the WRM, and staff is interviewing roughly a dozen candidates. Interviewers include Inyo County Water Department Director Bob Harrington, Bob Page from the San Bernardino County Administrative Office and members of the Kern County Water Agency.

When Brown reported to the IWVWD last week that he and the GSA board had no information on the WRM search, other water district directors expressed concern that they were being left out of the process.

But Christensen said it’s pretty typical for the board to wait on staff to come out of the screening process for a position like the WRM. “Because it’s a technical person or firm, we generally wouldn’t rely on the board members to screen them,” said Christensen. “We always use people we think have some qualifications to judge the technical proposals. That wouldn’t necessarily be members of the water district or the GSA board. But the board will ultimately decide.”

Christensen expects the WRM and associated costs to be around $250,000 per year for a basin of our size, but couldn’t give a firm figure.

The board also discussed revenue and financial issues and heard a presentation on SkyTEM’s aerial geophysical surveys from SkyTEM co-founder Max Halkjaer and Jacob Vind from the Danish Ministry of Public Affairs.

See future editions for further coverage.

Story First Published: 2017-06-23