IWVGA seeks grant funds as costs continue to add up

By BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

The Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority met Thursday morning to consider approving a grant application for Proposition 1 funding – money to help Groundwater Sustainability Agencies across the state halt the decline of groundwater levels as required by the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

IWVGA boardmembers have been eager for much-needed grant funding as the agency continues to accrue hundreds of thousands of dollars in administrative costs alone.

During its September meeting, the IWVGA heard a budget presentation from Steve Johnson, president of Stetson Engineers, the firm appointed as water resources manager. But Johnson’s “not-to-exceed” figure of roughly $195,000 for six months of work raised concerns from the public.

Stetson was selected as WRM with a bid of $250,000 for work through 2020, crafting a Groundwater Sustainability Plan for the IWV basin. Compared to Parker Groundwater’s $1.2- million proposal, Stetson was deemed the favorable choice. But the disparity between the two figures begged the question from community members if either organization truly understood the scope of work.

Mike Neel, a member of the public, commented on the “disconcerting” presentation and asked for a more up-to-date figure. “I’d like some clarification on why we were told two years worth of effort would be not much more than this first six months,” he said. “Will it climb to $1 million anyway?”

“We didn’t really have much information other than what is generally required to develop a GSP,” said Johnson. “We put together a very, very general budget. At that time we had virtually no knowledge of what was going on in this basin and what needed to be done in this basin.”

Johnson added that there were “way too many gaps” to try to present an updated budget, but it could be possible in the future.

He went on to say that IWV Water District Counsel Jim Worth was looking into the possibility of a Proposition 218 assessment to assist with GSP funding. But according to the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, the authority has no power to impose taxes or fees through Prop 218, as it is not a directly elected body.

According to authority staff, the IWVGA can, and probably will need to, administer “regulatory” pump fees or well fees, which do not require a Prop 218 vote.

More details about this week’s meeting were not available at press time, but will be covered in future editions. For agendas, minutes or other information on the IWVGA, visit kerncounty.com/Water Resources.aspx.

Story First Published: 2017-10-20