GA discusses water allocation, importation

By BRIAN COSNER, News Review Staff Writer

When the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority met last week, the board received updates from Water Resources Manager Steve Johnson on water allocation and importation discussions. While equity among all stakeholders is required by the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, some argue that water affordable to residents is a health and safety issue of prime importance.

According to studies, the IWV basin has an estimated natural recharge of anywhere between 5,000 and 10,000 acre-feet per year, with current pumping levels exceeding 25,000 acre-feet annually.

As a requirement of the SGMA, the IWVGA needs to submit a Groundwater Sustainability Plan to the California Department of Water Resources by the end of January 2020. DWP standards of “sustainability” mean that the IWV groundwater basin’s plan needs to halt or reverse aquifer decline by 2040.

While the basin has an estimated 2 million acre-feet of groundwater in storage, the annual six-inch decline in the water table won’t be accepted by the state.

“How are we to allocate equitably this 7,000 acre-feet among competing demands for it?” said Nick Panzer during public comment. “It is most likely the only affordable water that we will ever have in our basin. It should go first to the health and safety needs of the 35,000 people who live and work in the IWV and Searles Valley.”

“I’m really concerned about the price of my house going down,” said resident and IWV Water District customer Ralph Lachenmeier. “If we run out of water around here, my house will be worth nothing.

“If you guys plan on importing water, I don’t feel I should have to pay for it just because 10 or 15 farmers moved in here.”

“I think we need to recognize that we can protect the vast majority of infrastructure investments, homes and businesses and people’s livelihoods if we give a basic allocation of the inexpensive water to the health and safety needs of all the users in the IWV,” added West Katzenstein. “That should be the critical first allocation, and then you can argue about who gets the rest if there’s any left.”

While Johnson was unable to yet quantify the expected imported water needs or how much water would be allocated to various residential, industrial and agricultural interests, he said the concepts are being discussed.

“The No. 1 key topic is imported water,” he said. “And we need to ramp down pumping — there was total agreement across the groups. Another key topic was that the ramp down must be fair and equitable.”

He added that the Navy’s reserved federal right to water needs to be exercised and that there was consensus that the base should conserve where possible, but continue to reach its pumping needs.

When asked about specific imported amounts, Johnson said the board is “looking at different approaches with different costs.”

He said that one idea is a market-based system where pumping would be ramped down, and those that still had allowed pumping that they didn’t need could make it available to others who needed more.

“Whether that’s enough to get us there is a very good question,” said Johnson. He added that he is clear that importation will still be necessary.

Stetson Engineers’s Jeff Helsley also discussed the concept of water banking with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

“One of our concepts is to exchange water with LADWP – get water from them in exchange for water we get someplace else, recharge it into our basin and pump it back up for use in this basin,” he said.

“We’re at least talking conceptually about the technical information.”

Johnson said negotiations would be necessary to establish infrastructure for such a program.

“I’m concerned that we may be ignoring a very important requirement of SGMA – we have to name the water source and the reliability,” said Panzer. “You can’t have it in your plan until you prove your source and reliability. Let’s not put them in the plan until we have them in hand.

“It’s my personal opinion that we won’t even begin to know the cost of importing until the bidding war starts. I’m going to guess that just about every other overdrafted basin is going to do what we would like to do and that’s import. And when we all go chasing those same scarce resources, then we will have an idea what importing will really cost.”

Johnson stressed the importance of moving forward with developing a Groundwater Sustainability Plan in a timely manner.

“We are getting very close to getting critical on some of the things we need to do with the model,” said Johnson, president of Stetson. “I have an obligation — we need to get this thing done. We don’t have time to wait any more for some of the modelings we need to do.”

The IWVGA meets the third Thursday of each month, 10 a.m. at City Hall. For the board and committee schedules and agendas, see iwvga.org.

Story First Published: 2018-10-26