GSA water pumping fees get first reading

GSA water pumping fees get first readingIWVWD Directors Chuck Griffin and Chuck Cordell with General Manager Don Zdeba discuss proposed fees prior to the GSA’s Thursday meeting. — Photo by Laura Austin

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By BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

Groundwater pumping fees were the main topic of discussion yesterday at the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority’s regular monthly meeting. Members discussed the first reading of a proposed $35-per-acre-foot pumping fee for IWV pumpers, which will presumably impact all water users with the exception of single-residence private wells that pump less than two acre feet per year.

The topic was addressed earlier this week at the IWV Water District meeting where the board of directors voted against the delay of reimbursement of $500,000 that was advanced to the IWVGA. The district advanced the funds to the IWVGA with the agreement that IWVWD would have first priority of being reimbursed or would receive the funds in the form of a pumping credit. But the Authority board requested that the repayment be delayed to keep the first round of pumping fees to a minimum.

The IWVGA has a funding gap of about $1.5 million to get a Groundwater Sustainability Plan in place by 2020, and the purpose of the first pumping fee is to get it there. Boardmembers have reminded the public that this fee does not cover any water acquisition methods the plan may include, but is only for the administrative costs of putting the plan in place.

“The ratepayers need to know that it’s going to get very expensive, very fast,” said IWVWD Director Chuck Griffin during the district’s meeting Monday.

According to District Legal Counsel Jim Worth, the IWVGA wants to delay reimbursing the water district in order to keep the first pumping fee closer to $25 per acre foot. While Griffin was the only director to oppose the delay, Directors Don Cortichiato and Peter Brown were absent, leaving the board without the three votes needed to approve a motion.

Griffin raised concerns that the IWVGA – acting as Groundwater Sustainability Agency for the IWV – didn’t yet have a standing public finance committee.

“I think it’s imperative that we have a finance committee before we do anything else with the GSA,” said Griffin. He added that the water resource manager firm Stetson Engineering has been holding invoices for the GSA as it waits for funding from both fees and state grants. But he argued that the situation is untenable and doesn’t give the public a clear idea of what groundwater sustainability efforts are costing.

“It’s not going to be cheap,” said Griffin. “And I don’t want to approve this motion without a finance committee.”

IWVWD President Ron Kicinski said that Director Brown, representative to the GSA board, was “fighting for” a finance committee and he didn’t think it appropriate to “hold them hostage” until one was formed.

“We know how this board feels,” said Kicinski. “We all agree we want better accounting. All we want to do now is carry this motion.”

The motion did not carry, and members of the public also requested, as they have for some months, that the GSA form a standing finance committee.

Member of the public Judie Decker suggested that the board draft a memo saying exactly what it wants in regard to forming a finance committee and have Brown read it to the GSA board.

“Putting something in writing always helps,” she said.

The proposed fees were also discussed briefly during Wednesday evening’s Ridgecrest City Council meeting.

Mayor Peggy Breeden, IWVGA chair, clarified that with most residential users pumping between .5-.8 acre feet annually, initial fees will be only a few dollars per month.

But since fees have been proposed, they’ve ranged as high as $85per acre foot in previous drafts that reflected varying budget needs.

“The reason we keep jumping around and don’t know what we’re doing is because we haven’t established a finance committee,” said member of the public Stan Rajtora. “If the city would follow the lead of the water district, we could establish a finance committee with no problem.”

The IWVGA met yesterday, 10 a.m., at City Hall. Details were not available at press time, but will be covered in future editions. For information about future meetings and agendas, see iwvga.org

Story First Published: 2018-05-18