‘How are we going to pay for all of this?’

Groundwater authority approves water resources manager, unsure of long-term costs

‘How are we going to  pay for all of this?’By BRIAN COSNER, News Review Staff Writer

The Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority voted last week to approve Stetson Engineers to serve as its water resources manager. The approved contract covers $245,000 in time and materials to “get us out of the gate,” said Kern County Counsel Phil Hall, but costs for any additional time, materials or actual task orders are yet to be determined.

This open-ended agreement came as a surprise to many, including Mayor Peggy Breeden who serves as the board’s representative for Ridgecrest.

“I was told the total amount was $245,000,” said Breeden. “That was what we agreed to. I don’t want to pay more than that without going back to my council for input.”

Members of the public were already skeptical of the total costs involved when Stetson was named as the leading firm in the IWVGA’s request for proposal. The discrepancy between Stetson’s bid and the $1.2 million estimated by Parker Groundwater, the other firm in consideration for the WRM position, raised many suspicions during last week’s city council meeting.

The WRM is responsible for developing a groundwater sustainability plan for the IWVGA to implement. The groundwater authority consists of representatives from Ridgecrest, the IWV Water District and the of Kern, Inyo and San Bernardino.

“I get the idea of wanting to get started,” said Bob Page of San Bernardino County. “But how do you generally plan on managing the work so the costs stay under control?”

“That is a concern,” said IWVGA General Manager Alan Christensen. “We are moving quickly and we would not normally do a contract without some sort of not-to-exceed amount. Cost control is obviously critical.

“There’s no open checkbook. One of the items on our agenda soon is how are we going to pay for all of this.”

“I’m sure the finances are going to be fine,” said Gleason. “I’m not worried about it. I’m convinced [the WRM] is completely committed to our success.”

But as the uncertainty about the contract’s long-term costs hung in the air, the rest of the board didn’t seem to share Gleason’s confidence.

“I would like to have some kind of overall cost established for the project,” Peter Brown, representative from the IWV Water District. “Maybe that can be the first task.”

Hall said the goal of the contract was to secure the WRM in order to get moving on acquiring grants through Proposition 1 funding. But he said that the number of required meetings alone “could get quite expensive.”

Despite the uncertainties, the contract was unanimously approved by the board.

The IWVGA Board meets every third Thursday, 10 a.m. at City Hall. For more information visit https://www.kerncounty.com/WaterResources.aspx.

Story First Published: 2017-08-25