Clarity provided on county’s GA involvement

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Clarity provided on county’s GA involvementThe Kern County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 on Tuesday to pull out of the Kern Groundwater Authority. The board also clarified the difference between its involvement in that agency and its involvement in its counterpart in the Indian Wells Valley.

County Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop presented the board with a recommendation to withdraw as a representative of the KGA, noting that the county’s involvement exposed taxpayers to unnecessary financial risk.

As with the IWVGA, KGA was formed to manage an overdrafted basin as mandated by the State Groundwater Management Act and bring the basin into sustainability on an appointed timeline.

Alsop noted that although SGMA allows counties to take part in those agencies, “SGMA does not obligate counties – especially if they lack the adequate staffing, experience and dedicated revenue streams to manage them.”

He continued that the county and KGA representatives had been working several months to develop language indemnifying the county from risk, but that the two parties couldn’t come to terms. The county had procured that protection from all other agreements — including the one with IWVGA.

Staff recommendation, he said, was therefore to exercise the county’s option to give its 30-day notice for withdrawal.

The ensuing discussion between staff, supervisors and stakeholders in the West Kern basin touched on the impacts of that decision — including those related to land management. County Planning and Natural Resources Director Lorelei Oviatt said that the county would continue to remain engaged on land use, zoning and other aspects of property ownership.

The items before the board, she said, related only to protecting the county from financial liability.

First District Supervisor Mick Gleason, who represents northeast Kern, including the IWV, offered a distinction between the two groundwater agencies.

In the IWV, “we are knee-deep in membership and leadership in creating this GSA, being a member of this GSA and participating completely with the decisions that are going to be made by this GSA. And yet I hear you say we should not be in this business.”

He then asked Alsop why that statement applied to KGA, not the IWVGA.

“We are in a unique position in this subbasin that is the subject of this meeting here,” said Alsop.

Kern County Attorney Phil Hall went on to explain some of the differences between the two basins.

“Our involvement over here [in KGA] is different than over there [in IWVGA] because their groundwater authority has taken on the role of acting as one voice. It’s not many voices that are coming together — it’s one voice. It has one water resource manager that will be putting together the GSP for that basin.

“It has a pump tax, so any costs that are going to be incurred in that basin — be they costs for putting together the plan, or any lawsuits for that plan — are covered by those that consumptively use water in that basin.

“Over here we don’t have that. In fact, one of the issues we have with the KGA JPA is it expressly prohibits us from implementing a pump tax that would pay for any cost of litigation that really should be borne by everybody in the basin,” said Hall.

“So, understanding that — Mr. Alsop, would you qualify your statement to say that we shouldn’t be in this business here [in West Kern]?” asked Gleason.

“Yes,” said Alsop. “I don’t believe we ought to be in the position we are in as a county as it currently stands with the KGA in this basin. I believe it is of great risk — in the tens of millions of dollars over a long period of time to the general fund in financial liability. We’re protected from that in virtually every other place we are involved.”

The county approved the staff’s recommendation to withdraw, with Supervisor David Couch casting the lone dissenting vote.

Story First Published: 2018-12-14