Johnson to GA: we need to work together

Water resource manager stresses cooperation for sustainability

Johnson to GA: we  need to work togetherBy BRIAN COSNER, News Review Staff Writer

The Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority heard a report on special counsel Jim Markman’s water allocation presentation given to the board’s Policy Advisory Committee earlier this month. Water Resource Manager Steve Johnson’s take away — all stakeholders need to work together to reach sustainability.

The IWVGA has been tasked by the state to address groundwater availability through the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. One of dozens of Groundwater Sustainability Agencies throughout the state, the local authority was established to develop a plan that would reduce the decline in the IWV water table.

Markman was introduced by Johnson who said “Jim’s whole career has been involved in water resources management planning and adjudications and such.”

Johnson, president of Stetson Engineers, was hired as WRM to develop a Groundwater Sustainability Plan and help facilitate communication between the authority and its Policy and Technical Advisory committees.

Markman’s presentation addressed the various agricultural, industrial, Navy and residential interests, all with different overlying, appropriative and federal water rights, competing for groundwater in a basin where pumping is exceeding the natural recharge.

“Obviously, the water district needs it, the base needs it, agriculture needs it,” said Markman. “Everybody has a survival instinct when it comes to thinking about curtailing their own water production rights, even over time.”

He added that all users, perhaps with the exception of the Navy, can expect to ramp down use in the coming years.

The presentation showed an estimated 7,500 acre feet per year while pumping approximately 25,000 acre feet per year. However, more basin studies are required for an updated groundwater model. Johnson noted that some of the wells used for the report have been in steady decline for decades, but have leveled off in recent years.

“For me, his message was that it works a lot better for all of us here if we work together to come up with a solution,” said Johnson during his latest report to the authority. “A lot of money can be spent on legal battles and not a single cent will be spent fixing the problem. I’m a big advocate for keeping legal costs down.”

The board already implemented a groundwater pumping fee to help cover its roughly $5 million in costs for GSP development. SGMA requires a complete plan by 2020.

PAC Chair Thomas gave a similar report to Johnson, saying the valley needs to “pull together all interests in the basin and work to resolve competing interest.”

The PAC and TAC committee members represent a wide variety of stakeholders in the valley, and Johnson is the gobetween through whom the committees have been instructed to communicate with the authority board.

IWVGA Chair Peggy Breeden suggested an adjustment to the communication hierarchy to streamline things — that all committee members send comments and information to the committee chair who will then communicate with Johnson. Anyone is still welcome to three minutes during the public comment portion of monthly IWVGA meetings.

“I think that burden is larger than you might suspect,” said Don Decker, a member of TAC. Decker said committee members who assemble reports and prepare summaries should communicate directly with Johnson. He argued that whether the information comes from a committee member or the committee chair, it requires the same effort.

But Kern County representative Mick Gleason agreed with Breeden during boardmember closing comments.

“It’s not appropriate for us to be spending money for Steve Johnson to be answering all these emails,” said the Kern County 1st District supervisor. “I’m also not appreciative that individual members of the TAC and PAC may send things and inadvertently put end runs around their leadership.”

Gleason said he understands that the members have legitimate concerns but “in the interest of economic efficiency,” staff should find out how much time Stetson Engineers spend answering and addressing comments from committee members.

“If it’s trivial and has added value to our product, then I’m appreciative of it,” said Gleason.

More members of the public began addressing the topic, but Legal Counsel Keith Lemieux reminded Chair Breeden that the closing boardmember comments were not a period for additional public discussion and the topic was not on the agenda.

For the IWVGA’s committee and board meeting schedule, and future agendas, visit iwvga.org.

Pictured: Ridgecrest City Manager Ron Strand and IWV?Groundwater Authority Water Resource Manager Steve Johnson during the most recent meeting of the GA. — Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2018-09-28