Mounting costs for GA remain a concern

Groundwater Authority hears from committee, gives grant report

Mounting costs for GA remain a concernBy BRIAN COSNER, News Review Staff Writer

Rising costs and public participation continue to dominate groundwater sustainability forums. The Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority board of directors heard a request last week from its Policy Advisory Committee for representatives to have alternates in cases of absences or other conflicts. The board also discussed the costs associated with the first six months of coming up with a Groundwater Sustainability Plan – and how it will be funded.

While the board has generally been against alternates at the committee level, the message was that PAC should wait out some of the “growing pains” before establishing alternate representatives. “It is our recommendation that you wait and let things settle,” said IWVGA General Manager Alan Christensen. “My experience with commissions and committees over 28 years of working with local government is that there are growing pains.”

One of the arguments for PAC alternates was that since GSA boardmembers all had alternates for their board, they should also be afforded that opportunity. Mayor Peggy Breeden, Ridgecrest’s representative to the GSA Board, announced during a Ridgecrest City Council meeting that she supported the PAC members’ request.

“That’s a legitimate concern,” said Christensen. “But remember the reason why we have alternates [on the GSA Board] is that we have two counties that have significant travel time to get here ... they serve on other boards and commissions and may not be able to get here.”

Christensen said commissions and committees traditionally don’t have alternates the same way governing boards do.

“We would prefer you wait and give it a few more months,” he said.

“There are several members on our PAC who come from out of town,” said Carol Wilson during public comment. Wilson represents IWV business interests on the committee.

“They have very serious jobs they have to take care of, and that is the reason we ask for alternates. We are also a volunteer group and sometimes, with our schedules, it’s impossible for the PAC member to always be there.”

She added that GSA Legal Counsel Jim Worth was “authoritative and rude” when he addressed the PAC during its last meeting. Worth alerted members at the last minute that the main discussion item was being pulled because a discussion wasn’t approved by the GSA Board.

“I can’t resist telling you how terribly disruptive that last PAC meeting was due to Mr. Worth’s unannounced presentation...he basically took over the meeting,” said Wilson. “We would like for that to not happen anymore.”

Breeden defended Worth, mentioning that his recommendation not to discuss preliminary groundwater sustainability strategies came from all three legal counsels to the GSA Board.

“I did not take it as an attack or being confrontational,” she said.

But the board’s main item was to address the question on everybody’s mind – “How are we going to pay for all of this?”

The meeting marked the first time that Steve Johnson, president of Stetson Engineers, sat at the podium with the rest of the board. Stetson Engineers was selected as the firm to serve as water resources manager – responsible for crafting a Groundwater Sustainability Plan for the IWV basin.

Jeff Helsley, also of Stetson, was present to give a presentation on the firm’s “aggressive” first-six-month schedule of tasks. The firm is pursuing funding through California Proposition 1 grants.

Prop 1 authorized the legislature to appropriate money to the Department of Water Resources for the GSAs that have formed around the state. The IWV is eligible for two different categories of funding — up to $1 million in funds allocated for disadvantaged communities, and another potential $1.5 million for basins in “critical overdraft.”

With $15-30 million available for critically overdrafted basins, and only 21 such basins in the state, Helsley said we are in a “good situation” to at least get funding from the second category.

“It appears this won’t be a super competitive process,” he said. “Many of these other grants — there are far more people applying than there is money available.”

The IWV basin has until the summer of 2020 to have a GSP approved by the state. Stetson’s first six months of tasks have a “maximum cost” of roughly $195,000 of which some $50,000 is just for attending committee meetings and $45,000 is for preparing applications for grant funding. Johnson added that other tasks may come up during the six-month period.

While many were relieved that the GSA Board is actively pursuing additional funding, the question remains whether it is enough to fund extensive sustainability efforts. Nearly all discussions include establishing infrastructure and a source, for water importation — costs that will ultimately fall on water users when grant money runs out.

Christensen also said there would be a “funding gap” for operating costs since several months will pass before grant money comes in.

The board mentioned borrowing the funds from the IWV Water District as one option, but Johnson said Stetson would be willing to hold bills pending the arrival of grant funds.

The GSA Board approved that Stetson move forward with the six-month proposal. For schedules and agendas, see WaterResources.aspx.

Pictured: Steve Johnson, president of Stetson Engineering, during last week’s IWV Groundwater Authority meeting. -- Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2017-09-29