GA takes steps toward imported water

GA takes steps toward imported waterRodney Smith of Stratecon presents information relating to the pursuit of importing water — Photo by Laura Austin

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By BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

The Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority met last week and heard four separate presentations from firms aiming to assist the Authority in facilitating imported groundwater. In accordance with state requirements, it’s the Authority’s responsibility to stabilize the valley’s declining groundwater table.

The GA’s current data states that pumpers in the valley are annually consuming around 20,000 acre-feet over the groundwater basin’s annual recharge rate. With an estimated 2 million acre-feet of groundwater storage, estimates say we have at least 60 years of water left in our basin. But the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act requires the Authority to halt or reverse the water table decline by 2040.

“I think without a doubt imported water is absolutely necessary,” said IWVGA Chair Ron Kicinski. “You’re not going to conserve your way to sustainability.”

Presenting were Mammoth Trading of Denver, Capitol Core Group, Inc. of Irvine, Stratecon, Inc. of Ontario and Integrated Resource Management, Inc., of Claremont. While the firms were all responding to the Authority’s request for proposal, each firm’s plan varied in scope.

Richael Young of Mammoth Trading stressed the importance of demand management of groundwater resources.

Jeff Simonetti, Todd Tatum and Michael McKinney presented for CCG. Their presentation described the group’s strengths as licensed state and federal lobbyists to acquire funding for water acquisition.

“The water purchase is just one component,” said Tatum. “We could go out and find you all the water. If you don’t have the funding or the infrastructure, the stool is not going to stand. And if you don’t have the agreements with the entities that can deliver that water to you, it’s not going to do us any good to find the water.”

Both firms’ initial fees were in the ballpark of $250,000.

Stratecon President Rodney Smith presented for his firm. Like the others, he promoted a “multi-disciplinary approach” that included working with state and federal regulatory agencies and private stakeholders and pursuing varied importation and funding resources.

He added that it’s important to “spend a lot of time making sure you understand your problem before you start.”

“Don’t jump too far ahead with thinking you know what your solution is. You have to look at your problem and what your alternatives are. Right now you think you need around 15,000 acre-feet for supply. Well, is that going to be a firm supply? Or a variable supply over a multi-year period?”

Bob Bowcok of IRM was the last to present. While he said there were several alternatives, he painted a grim picture of working with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

“We don’t think you’re just going to go out and buy a block of 15,000 acre-feet and say, ‘Deal done,’” he said. “California is complex and there’s a tremendous amount of competition for that water today. You’re going to need a comprehensive portfolio to fulfill your needs.

“LADWP — you guys know that’s an uphill battle. We’re not going to walk in there and get LADWP to allow somebody into that aqueduct. But we can get creative with you, and that’s what we intend to do.”

Kern County’s representative to the Authority, 1st District Supervisor Mick Gleason, thanked the presenters for their “four outstanding presentations.”

“In many ways you’ve scared the heck out of me,” he said. “You’ve also opened my eyes — I see dollar signs all over the place I didn’t see before. I see the need that we have is that we must augment our water supply. I think that it’s a multi-faceted approach to how we develop those augmentation sources — importing water is certainly one of them.”

Gleason added that a previous interaction with LADWP was “not a very good conversation,” and that there would be a lot of competition for its water.

LADWP managers “aren’t about to share a drop,” said Raymond Kelso during public comment. “They are booked and are planning way ahead. They are looking at the Pacific Ocean to take care of their situation. They’re too powerful, they’re too big and we’re not in the loop.”

“I do question the wisdom of focusing on import for this valley given the timelines that we’re looking at,” said John Vallejo, assistant county counsel for Inyo County, sitting in for Supervisor Matt Kingsley. “If we’re going to focus our efforts on import before exhausting our efforts to see where we can gain water on demand management and reduction, I think we do a disservice to at least the domestic users in the basin, if not all of the users in this basin.”

Vallejo said he admittedly lacked a “holistic understanding” of the available import options, but made it clear that acquiring water from the north would be unlikely.

Most of the firms gave an idea of what their initial fees would be, but none of the presentations outlined the actual cost per acre-foot of importation.

“We all know it’s going to cost something,” said Kicinski.

During public comment, Chuck Griffin also said that the Authority needs to look beyond water importation.

“I do feel that importation will be necessary to reach sustainability, but I don’t think it’s the first answer that we have to look for. We have areas in this basin where we have additional water. We haven’t researched enough yet. There’s answers if we go a little further to the south and we drill some wells.

“It’s frustrating — we have a [Policy Advisory Committee] and a [Technical Advisory Committee]. We created them to do that job. Let’s put some tasks on them. Let’s come up with a plan to look for new water in this basin. To import water, I think we all agree we have to build a treatment facility first, and that’s expensive.”

Most of the Authority’s data supports the view that we are pumping four to five times more water than is being recharged. But Water Resources Manager Steve Johnson of Stetson Engineers said there are “data gaps” in our water availability and stressed the need for more information.

In discussions of funding priorities, some recommended that a deep test well in the southern region of our basin could yield information to get a more clear picture of water availability.

“The only alternative in my opinion is water from outside of this valley,” said Judie Decker during public comment. “I know we have discussed many times the fact that we’re not going to get water from Inyo County; he said it right up front. But there are other places to get that water.”

The board tasked committee members and staff with taking a closer look at the presentations to determine which would be the best to move forward with. See future editions for more groundwater developments.

Story First Published: 2019-01-25