GA proposes plan amid fiscal uncertainty

Committees hope tasks, timelines will alleviate concerns about direction

GA proposes plan amid  fiscal uncertaintyCome December, committees of the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority should get a clear view of long-term tasks and requirements in order to adequately advise the water resources manger in crafting a Groundwater Sustainability Plan for our valley. But with grant funding from the state still an uncertainty, stakeholders question the effectiveness of a plan with no financial support in place.

*****

By BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

The Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority once again heard frustration from members of its Policy and Technical Advisory committees. For months, committee members have expressed their sense of a lack of direction from the board and have questioned what they are supposed to be working on with the state’s deadline looming.

The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act requires the IWV to come up with a Groundwater Sustainability Plan by 2020 to halt dropping groundwater levels. The authority, as well as its Water Resources Manager Stetson Engineering, are spearheading the effort, but gaining momentum has been a struggle.

Member of the public Judie Decker summarized some of the concerns during public comment.

“You have two committees, the TAC and the PAC. They are advisory committees. Even if they voted unanimously on something, it still has no fallout as far as becoming a rule because they are advisory committees,” she said. “So why are the rules so stringent? They are not making much progress, and I believe you have to have a plan in two years.”

Decker is also a former director for the IWV Water District.

But Authority Chair Mick Gleason, Kern County 1st District supervisor, and Steve Johnson of Stetson believe they have a solution for both committees – a Plan Of Action & Milestones.

“Having a POAM is going to satisfy most of you’re needs,” said Gleason. “It’s a compilation of requirements, tasks and timelines in order to achieve those tasks.”

Johnson reported that the preliminary plan is completed and has been distributed among some boardmembers for review. Gleason said he expects to review the plan for approval at next month’s board meeting.

Having a concise plan with sequential tasks and a clear timeline should create plenty of work and prevent the committees from needing to wait on the board for specific instruction, he said. But there are financial obstacles to drafting a complete POAM.

“Certain things that you folks are very interested in doing are constrained a little by the budget that we have until we get funding into the organization,” said Johnson. “We have tasks that we want to work on, but based on funding constraints, we can’t work on them right now.”

The firm’s six-month budget was approved in September, leaving them without funds by the spring.

Stetson submitted a Proposition 1 grant application earlier this month for some $2 million more, but it is unknown when or if funds would be made available and in what amount.

Cmdr. Brian Longbottom, China Lake’s advisory member of the IWVGA, said he had still not had a chance to review the preliminary POAM, but asked if the tasks had specific dollar amounts attached. Johnson said they hadn’t gotten that far.

“This is what I want to caution,” said Longbottom. “It’s very easy to squeeze things on a POAM and make it look like we’re going to hit our date on paper. I think we need to be ultraconservative on how long and how much money it’s going to take to get each of these items done.

“With being under the Brown Act and how often we meet in order to put rubber on the road, we may have to kick it up a notch or two to get to the end. And we’re not going to know that if we don’t have realistic constraints in the `M...so is it possible to get a version of the plan rereleased that has realistic timeframes?”

“I appreciate you stressing this because with most people who run a business and have to make things happen – [money] has to come into play,” said Pat Farris during public comment. “I think we need to clearly define what kind of budget restraints are going to keep us from meeting our deadlines.”

Johnson said he and his staff have already discussed similar concerns. Gleason reiterated the importance of having a plan to look at by December, and several times he mentioned inclusion of the option to import water.

“The vast majority of people in this basin, those being served by the IWVWD, don’t have a problem,” said Mike Neel during public comment. The water district reports that it has adequate water supply for hundreds of feet. Neel said the issues referenced in the Todd Engineers’ report largely apply to some 1,000 residents in a concentrated pumping area.

“To me the real problem is there, and that’s where the problem needs to be solved instead of talking about the whole aquifer and trying to keep it from never going down with this massive effort and the ridiculous expense of imported water.”

Legal Counsel Phil Hall responded that it didn’t matter where declining well levels were most severe – the state mandate was that all overdrafted areas needed basin-wide management. According to SGMA, a “balanced” aquifer means a groundwater table that never declines.

The IWVGA also heard presentations on the SkyTEM flyover groundwater modeling survey and a United States Geological Survey study.

According to IWVWD General Manager Don Zdeba, the data from the SkyTEM project looks “very promising” and could be available in a presentable format as early as December. Local organizations including the water district, Mojave Pistachios, Coso Operating Company, Meadowbrook Dairy and Searles Valley Minerals contributed a combined $300,000 for the survey, and the data will be fully accessible to the authority.

Lorie Flint of USGS presented the second study. According to Flint, the initial estimated recharge of 5,000 acre feet per year (roughly a fifth of the valley’s estimated draw) could be off by 50 to 100 percent. However, she noted that a 10,000 acre feet per year recharge is still not sufficient for the valley’s estimated production.

The model is still being updated, and she said more information would be ready in early 2018.

December meeting dates for the PAC and TAC have not been confirmed, but the committees generally meet either the first or second Thursday of the month. The IWVGA will next meet Wednesday, Dec. 13, 10 a.m. at City Hall. Agendas and more information will be available at www.kerncounty. com/WaterResources.aspx.

Pictured: China Lake Public Works Officer Commander Brian Longbottom during last week’s IWVGA meeting. Longbottom is an advisory member of the Groundwater Authority, representing the Navy. — Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2017-11-22