Groundwater committees ‘wasting time’?

By BRIAN COSNER, News Review Staff Writer

When the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority’s Advisory Committee met earlier this month, members were left puzzled when they seemingly weren’t even authorized to vote on their own meeting minutes.

“The value of the time we put here is precious. If we don’t have the ability to very clearly make our statements and make them a part of the record that has some validity, we are wasting our time,” said Don Decker, a member of the Technical Advisory Committee that met earlier this month.

The TAC is one of the advisory committees to the IWVGA, acting as the valley’s Groundwater Sustainability Agency under the state’s new groundwater sustainability legislation.

Committee Chair Adam Bingham said that the TAC did not need to approve the minutes and was designed not to vote on action, but only to give direction to the GSA board. But Decker argued that the group always approved its minutes, as nearly any public board does.

“It’s unusual for me too,” said Steve Johnson of Stetson Engineering, the GSA’s water resources manager. “It’s an unusual situation.”

But Johnson backed Bingham’s statement saying that Kern County Legal Counsel Phil Hall had recently revised the committee charter to clarify that members should not be voting.

“Then why do we have voting and nonvoting members?” asked Committeemember Tim Parker.

“We’re going to come to agreements during these meetings,” he said later. “We want to somehow capture them in writing so if there’s a debate later on, we can show where we were and so we don’t spend a lot of time backpedaling.”

“The direction we’re headed here is ... absolutely ridiculous,” added Decker. “If this committee is going to have any value, it has to be able to make clear and definite statements.”

During the formation of advisory committees, then IWVGA Chair Mick Gleason, Kern County 1st District supervisor, said that the committees would be the “meat and potatoes” of forming a Groundwater Sustainability Plan and that their meetings would be “where the action happened.” But committeemembers disagree that that’s happening.

Members of the Policy Advisory Committee canceled this month’s meeting because they weren’t given ample direction from the GSA board. Members of the PAC have expressed similar concerns in the past.

“[If] we can’t bring things to the GSA board’s attention unless we are told by the GSA board ... then this is just a total waste of time,” said PAC Member Carol Wilson at an earlier meeting. Wilson has addressed the GSA board numerous times questioning the PAC’s role and its effectiveness under the current committee structure.

Both committees have been meeting for nearly a year now, but whether either has gained much traction is typically an item of discussion during their meetings.

During the TAC meeting, Johnson said the item should be brought to the IWVGA’s legal counsel for clarification. The IWVGA will next meet May 17 at 10 a.m. at City Hall. The agenda will be posted at iwvga.org.

Story First Published: 2018-05-11