Deciphering the bureaucratic ‘alphabet soup’

A primer on understanding the complex agencies and agendas driving California water policies

By BRIAN COSNER, News Review Staff Writer

For anybody trying to follow local developments regarding groundwater management, it can be a bit like staring at a bowl of alphabet soup. The IWVGA (Indian Wells Groundwater Authority) is a GSA (Groundwater Sustainability Agency) tasked with forming a GSP (Groundwater Sustainability Plan) under SGMA (the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act). The IWVGA’s PAC and TAC (Policy and Technical Advisory Committees) will be helping craft a GSP to meet the SWRCB’s (State Water Resource Control Board) approval.

But there’s still California Statewide Groundwater Elevation Monitoring, or CASGEM, the program responsible for tracking groundwater use across the state and prioritizing basins in need of SGMA’s attention. Members of the public may not have heard of CASGEM, but neither have some of our local groundwater players.

During a recent TAC meeting, Navy officials mentioned they didn’t know about CASGEM regulations during a discussion on drilling monitoring wells. Member of the public Elaine Mead pointed out that projects that projects not adhering to the regulations, aren’t eligible for SGMA grant funding.

One member of the IWV Water District also attended a “very informative” CASGEM seminar last year, but the district has still never asked for a full report. Since CASGEM is responsible for classifying our basin’s priority, and it changed our designation from “overdraft” to “critical overdraft” with no new studies, many are still out of the loop as to how we landed amid all of these new groundwater requirements.

This question was asked previously to Dave Gutierrez with the Department of Water Resources, whose response was, “It really doesn’t matter.”

“What matters is you’ve got to do a Groundwater Sustainability Plan. Either way you’ve got to do a plan,” he said.

CASGEM uses a 21-point scale to prioritize basins as high, medium and low priority. Only high- and medium-priority basins are required to form GSAs and GSPs. The IWV Basin is about a point-and-a-half away from “low priority.” The areas of most concern for our basin are population growth and “impacts,” according to the report.

The projected population growth is somewhere between 25-40 percent according to the Department of Finance’s census projections, though Ridgecrest’s population has only increased 1.9 percent since 2010. Additionally, China Lake’s 2012 Environmental Impact Report states that our basin has enough water to support a population of 90,000 for 60 years. The basin is currently home to just under 35,000 residents.

The “impacts” category states that our overdraft has been documented since the 1960s, but it doesn’t give a figure like it does with many other basins. Our overdraft wasn’t designated as “critical” until the release of the county-funded 2014 Todd Engineers groundwater report. By the president of Todd Engineers’ own admission, the report was not intended to be heavily relied on and more studies are recommended.

Kern County 1st District Super-visor Mick Gleason has said that the critical designation has put us a step closer to attaining grant money to fund a GSP. But others have pointed out that the designation is also the only reason the state is calling for a GSP from here in the first place.

Multiple agencies continue to discuss groundwater plans during regular public meetings. The IWV Water District meets Tuesday, Oct. 10, 6 p.m. at the Water District Office. The Groundwater Authority will also meet Thursday, Oct. 19, 10 a.m. at City Hall. For agendas and other information visit kerncounty.com/WaterResources.aspx.

Story First Published: 2017-10-06