Who ultimately decides how to use IWV water?

By BRIAN COSNER, News Review Staff Writer

Recent Highway 395 construction and a proposed 200+ acre solar field have been frequent topics of discussion this summer. But the big question for both of these Inyokern projects seems to be – where will they get their water?

Since the state Department of Water Resources declared the Indian Wells Valley groundwater basin to be in “critical overdraft” in 2015, Kern County has taken an active part in managing how residents use local water. The Kern County Board of Supervisors passed the Planning Department’s controversial IWV Land Management Use Plan that year – removing many parcels from the agricultural zone in order to curb future ag growth.

Kern County 1st District Supervisor Mick Gleason, who also currently chairs the IWV Groundwater Authority, was one of the supervisors who denied a local farmer permission to plant additional pistachio trees in an easement adjacent to his property because it “would have an additional adverse impact on the basin.”

Meanwhile, the proposed solar project would require some 100 acre feet of water according to Valley Wide Construction Services’ plans. According to the proposal, “water or the project is proposed to be trucked from an off-site water purveyor and/or pumped from on-site wells.”

Valley Wide Construction officials have declined the opportunity to further comment on the project multiple times.

It is also not known at press time how much water Granite Construction has used for its highway project. But the frequent trips of several large water trucks imply it’s no drop in the bucket if our groundwater basin is in as dire a condition as the state says.

A third issue that has arisen for discussion relates to water use — up for a vote by the supervisors this month — is whether to ban or regulate cultivation of cannabis in outlying areas of Kern.

Proponents of the regulatory option say that allowing cultivation (and sale) of marijuana can yield a significant revenue stream for the county.

However, some residents have opposed growing cannabis on the grounds that outdoor cultivation consumes a great deal of water (addressed in the planning document, pcd.kernsda.com/cannabis-land-use-ordinance).

Kern County Planner Lorelei Oviatt, who was instrumental in passing the Land Use Management Plan, responded to these concerns by pointing out that the plan eliminates most areas designated for cultivation use.

“Further, they would have to show they have sufficient water in that overdrafted basin to grow,” she said.

“I do not believe they would be able to get a will-serve letter or a water supply report that would be sufficient for a permit.”

She noted, however, that indoor cultivation greatly reduces the demand for water through use of a closed-loop system.

“I have no cannabis operators who have discussed any facilities in the Indian Wells Valley. However, they would have to show available water.”

She has had two requests for dispensaries located outside of Ridgecrest, but she said that by county ordinance dispensaries are prohibited from being cultivators as well.

“Because of the economics of cannabis cultivation, please note that one 250,000-square-foot (five-acre) greenhouse produces more profit for a grower than 40 acres of nut trees or alfalfa, and uses very little comparable water due to the indoor recycled use,” said Oviatt.

“The EIR includes water mitigation that will require they show and obtain available water. Unless they were removing another use, that will be difficult to show.”

Gleason’s office was unavailable for comment on either the solar project or the construction water use. But the question remains – when, and for whom, does the county intervene on water use?

Story First Published: 2017-09-01