TAC discusses water allocations, stresses importation

TAC discusses water allocations, stresses importation‘I still think up front we need to try and understand [the costs] a little bit ... How do we make sure we’re spending our money right?’

— Scott O’Neil, Technical Advisory Committee

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By BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

The Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority is one year closer to its 2020 deadline to develop a Groundwater Sustainability Plan. According to Water Resources Manager Steve Johnson, the path forward will be difficult without importing water.

The IWVGA’s Technical Advisory Committee met last week to discuss groundwater model and management scenarios and implementation of the Navy-Coso Royalties Fund.

The Department of the Navy generates an average of about $15 million annually from Coso Geothermal Field’s energy operations on the North Range of NAWS China Lake. But most of the money was never utilized locally.

Last year Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Rep. Paul Cook helped pass legislation that would secure half of those royalties to support local water and energy needs for China Lake and the surrounding community.

Johnson said he would spend the week collecting input on how the Authority board should suggest spending priorities to the Navy for groundwater sustainability. But he made it clear that importation was both a top priority and inevitable.

He said that after current demands and the needs of both Navy and residential users, “there’s not a lot left to sustain the community without imported water. It’s just the reality.”

“Maybe we try to do it without as much imported water, with a little less imported water. But I don’t know if you’re going to be able to do it [without importation].”

Valley interests are pumping an estimated 27,000 acre-feet of groundwater from the basin annually. Current TAC data states that the natural recharge of the basin is only about 7,700 acre-feet, leaving an annual disparity of nearly 20,000 acre-feet.

Additionally, Meadowbrook Dairy is asking for an increase in pumping allocation to 12,000 acre-feet per year. Meadowbrook’s recent annual averge pumping shows as 6,400 acre-feet (a historically low figure for Meadowbrook, according to attorney Derek Hoffman).

“I find that very difficult to understand when we’re discussing rampdowns,” said Mayor Peggy Breeden during public comment. Breeden was also last year’s chair of the Authority board.

Meadowbrook requested the increase in order to return to its historic pumping levels and begin producing on currently dormant land. Hoffman added that some wells have not been operating at full capacity for years.

According to Johnson, Mojave Pistachio also has a planned increase from roughly 3,000 to 6,000 acre-foot allocation to meet the needs of the company’s maturing trees.

All of this was presented in a no-action baseline pumping “worst-case scenario” plan. The proposal was bookended by another scenario that immediately reduced pumping to fewer than 7,700 acre-feet annually.

Jeff Helsley, of Johnson’s firm Stetson Engineers, gave a brief presentation on importing water to help determine how much the various pumpers would need to alter their groundwater production.

“Once we get imported water online, then we can start the rampdown,” said Helsely. “In our imported-water plan, we’re not assuming you can go out in the market every year and get 15,000 acre-feet of water. You’re going to have to store that water – get it when there are surpluses available.

But TAC member Scott O’Neil questioned the costs associated with water importation, traditionally a very expensive process.

“How do you understand the feasibility – what’s feasible from an economic standpoint,” he said. “Can we really come up with the resources to build the infrastructure that’s going to make that scenario even viable? How do we evaluate what’s the overall impact on the valley?“If we don’t have the resources for the people who actually do the work for the Navy, then we’re not going to have the Navy here. How do we evaluate some of those kinds of factors in our criteria when we judge what’s good?”

Helsley said that that the plan offered only the “first steps” and was a conceptual model of imported water resources.

“Figuring out how it’s paid for, what’s affordable – that is part of the implementation. We’re looking at just one piece of the puzzle – what pumping scenarios we want to get the basin into stability. How do we do that? That is, whether we just restrict everybody’s pumping or we pick one of our imported water projects over another.

“I still think up front we need to try and understand [the costs] a little bit,” said O’Neil. “There’s an interior boundary of what’s feasible. How do we make sure we’re spending our money right?”

“We are the Technical Advisory Committee,” said Chair Adam Bingham, who added that the financial concerns would be matters for the Authority Board and the Policy Advisory Committee.

O’Neil said TAC needs to write a letter to the Navy for the Authority Board to delineate what the water priorities are and put the ball in the Navy’s court.

“We want to just make sure that projects that are nominated are in line with the intent of the legislation,” he said. Otherwise he said the Authority could lose the opportunity for the funding.

“It could actually die.”

TAC Member Don Decker said that water importation would be priority No. 1. “Everything else is secondary,” he added.

The TAC will give its report to the IWV Groundwater Authority during its board meeting Thursday, Jan. 17, 10 a.m. at City Hall.

Story First Published: 2019-01-11