Can the valley grow under SGMA?

Can the valley grow under SGMA?Pictured: Members of the IWV Groundwater Authority hear the public’s input during last week’s GSA meeting. Breeden currently serves as chair of the IWV Groundwater Authority board. — Photo by Laura Austin



News Review Staff Writer

Can the Indian Wells Valley support growth while under the thumb of state groundwater mandates? The question arose near the end of last week’s meeting of the IWV Groundwater Authority.

IWVGA members Mayor Peggy Breeden, Kern County 1st District Supervisor Mick Gleason and China Lake Public Works Officer Brian Longbottom met prior to the Feb. 15 meeting with the Naval Air Warfare Center Commander Rear Adm. Brian Corey, Executive Director Joan Johnson, the Naval Air Weapons Station Commanding Officer Capt. Paul Dale and representation from China Lake Alliance to discuss an influx of some 300 employees at China Lake this summer.

“When we walked in the door, the first thing the admiral said was, ‘Are we running out of water?’” said Breeden during her report. “They are very, very, very concerned … I can’t express to you how concerned they are about their ability to grow in this valley or how their mission is affected.”

“We talked a lot about growth,” said Gleason. “I was impressed with how their staff was aware of everything we’re doing here.”

According to Breeden, the IWV has an estimated 2 million acre feet of groundwater in storage, which gives us some 80 years of water at our current pumping rate.

But according to the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, we’re required to drastically decrease our water use by 2020 unless we can find some other way to halt our declining water table.

The question remains — can we do so while bringing more jobs to the valley to bolster China Lake’s mission?

“We’re not a cookie-cutter basin,” said Breeden. “We want to be able to grow. Homes need to be built. Apartments and condos and everything needs to be built here.”

According to Breeden, China Lake is expecting roughly 700 new hires when college terms end this summer. While many will also be leaving, it equates to a net gain of 300. In addition, China Lake is expecting an estimated increase of 100-200 in facilities and support personnel.

Despite our storage and expected growth, the state’s Department of Water Resources has made it clear in the past that the objective of SGMA is simple – we must halt water table decline and can pump no more than we produce.

In a previous public meeting, DWR Program Manager David Gutierrez said, “It doesn’t matter” how much water we have. The state wants ‘balanced’ aquifers, which means zero decline.

Breeden said that China Lake officials expressed interest in joining the IWVGA in an appeal to the DWR for some sort of compromise.

“We can mine this water for a short period of time,” she said. “We don’t want to take away the future of our children, our grandchildren and great-grandchildren … but we don’t want to be told, ‘Everybody die and don’t grow.’ That can’t happen here.”

Depending on the DWR’s response, Breeden said, representatives of the Navy, city, county, realtors, bankers and investors will meet to see how quickly we can develop plan permits to accommodate housing the expected hires.

Story First Published: 2018-02-23