Groundwater Authority is dysfunctional

Guest Editorial:

Groundwater Authority  is dysfunctionalPerhaps the best one word descriptor of the IWV Groundwater Authority is dysfunctional. I recently tried to create an organization chart of the GA authority, and the results of my failed attempt were most enlightening. We basically have three or four general managers. We also have three or four attorneys in addition to the one water-specialty attorney we do need. We have no financial manager who is actually accountable to the GA. Our technical progress has been slow. Public outreach has been a total failure. We need a success-oriented organization.

The current GA organization, or lack thereof, is making it impossible to accomplish the mission of the GA. Both the Policy Advisory Committee and the Technical Advisory Committee have to jump through hoops before getting their agendas approved. Any of the myriads of general managers or attorneys can jump into the process and create problems. There are a dozen people who can create problems for the PAC or the TAC by micromanaging, but no one person can authorize something to happen. What started out as perhaps a reasonable, cheap approach has turned into a disaster. This needs to change.

Perhaps even worse than the control overreach on the PAC and the TAC is the wasteful use of the engineering consultant, Stetson Engineering, led by Steve Johnson. Mr. Johnson is a professional engineer who, along with his engineering team, is expected to address the real technical issues underlying our overdraft problems. He should not be wasting his valuable time or our money babysitting the current abundance of general managers and attorneys. His job should not include sweet-talking a dozen nontechnical interlopers into coming to a consensus so he can do the job we hired him to do. Mr. Johnson is also not supposed to be a GA admin support person. We need a general manager who can relieve Mr. Johnson of all the nontechnical duties he is now performing. Using him as a gopher is very expensive and reduces his technical effectiveness.

Lack of a finance manager has precluded multiple alternative revenue opportunities. We need to be proactive in our search for alternative funding. Since Day 1 all people have heard is that we are authorized to collect a pump fee. A fee, a fee, a fee is the scope of current understanding. It certainly is the easy way to go for the GA board, but is not in the best interest of the public.

The solution to the above problems is straightforward. First, we need to hire a general manager who can replace all the existing mini-general managers. That general manager needs to be given clear direction, and then the GA board needs to get out of the way and allow progress to be made. The GA board does not have to constantly micromanage.

Second, we need to hire one attorney to replace all the existing legal interlopers except for the water attorney. If we want to make progress we need to have one and only one attorney not affiliated with any of the GA component agencies. The single attorney needs to be accountable only to the GA. The built-in conflict of interest potential of the existing system should scare the hell out of all residents of the valley.

Last, we need a financial manager that understands budgeting and cash flow as well as what alternative funding streams are available. We have gotten ourselves into a financial mess that frankly should have been foreseen more than a year ago. Due to inept planning, it is now probably impossible to avoid a pumping fee before completion of the Groundwater Sustainability Plan. However, we do not have to exacerbate the problem by continued poor planning.

The transition needs to be handled with more finesse than we have seen in the past, but it needs to be done. We need an organizational structure that is success oriented. We have some hard timelines to meet, and the sooner we have such an organization, the sooner we can start making real progress.

— Stan Rajtora

Story First Published: 2018-06-22