Is imported water feasible for IWV?

Groundwater Authority takes further steps in exploring importation

Is imported water feasible for IWV?By BRIAN COSNER, News Review Staff Writer

“Is [water] importation necessary? Do you foresee that we can [continue] … without doing any importation?”

That was the question last week from Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority Chair Ron Kicinski.

“Realistically – that’s a hard thing to visualize,” said Water Resource Manager Steve Johnson. “This community will not be the same community, I’ll guarantee that.”

Groundwater Authority staff members reported last week on their plan to augment local water supply. The primary task in drafting a state-mandated Groundwater Sustainability Plan is to ramp down our groundwater extraction of nearly 35,000 acre-feet per year to below our estimated annual recharge of 7,650 acre-feet.

With basins all over California seeking to augment their water sources as a result of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, there are still the questions of where the Authority will be able to find water and how much it will cost.

Four firms gave presentations to the Authority earlier this year in regard to pursuing imported water. General Manager Don Zdeba reported last Thursday that one of them – Capitol Core Group of Irvine, Calif. – was selected via committee as a potential candidate to assist the Authority in facilitating imported water.

“With all due respect, direction of staff at the last meeting was to develop a general outline of an augmentation strategy and bring a recommendation back to the board – not a contract recommendation for a water broker,” said John Vallejo, representative from Inyo County.

“I understand the fact that import is a very big-picture issue that this board has to consider … but in terms of being able to put a plan into place, if we have the assumption that import is going to be the answer, then we need to know what our overall augmentation strategy will be and what our overall demand reduction strategy will be before we go looking for import first,” he said.

“Inyo County’s perspective is that we do not believe that import is a guaranteed, let alone likely, solution for this basin. If we’re going to make a decision to spend a substantial amount of money just to determine if import is going to be available – let alone what import will cost – we better know what’s available before we get to the import stage of this process.”

The Authority is required to have a GSP draft by 2020, but the board is still collecting well data and analyzing hydrogeological studies and models to fill data gaps in our basin.

“Honestly, I don’t know what’s available,” said Kicinski. “But to think that this valley doesn’t need to import water I think is going down the wrong bridge.

“I don’t think that we can sit back and wait until we say, ‘Now we know we need 4,500 acre-feet – let’s pull the trigger,’ when we have an opportunity here to do the research, get everybody in line, get the available funding identified.”

Johnson added that he can make all of the presentations on other augmentation methods — such as recycled water, alternative water and conservation — available for the board and the public.

“We should make sure everybody is aware of what’d been done because that is the augmentation plan overall.”

Many of the presentations are given during Technical Advisory and Policy Advisory committee meetings.

“I agree with much of what my colleague from Inyo County said. I think that importing water is going to be a huge lift and I don’t know whether it’s real or not,” said Kern County representative Mick Gleason.

“I would take the other side of the coin of his argument and say because I don’t know, because I believe there’s competition for these dollars, because we have no infrastructure, because we have no place to put the water, because of all the massive problems associated with the ability to target or import water — I think having that up front is going to help us with our GSP development and help us in so many areas.”

“I think ultimately where I stand on this is we need to know what the option is and what the costs would be,” said San Bernardino County’s Luther Snoke via teleconference.

“How much the costs will be and funds are clearly issues at this point in time, so being mindful of limiting the amount of investment we make into this is important. But I do believe we’ve got to start this process so we’re educated on it and can appropriately move forward.”

Vallejo said that approval of pursuing a contract with Capitol Core Group wouldn’t stifle pursuing nonimportation strategies.

The recommendation to move forward with developing a contract was approved 4-1 with Vallejo voting no.

The board also discussed investing more in public outreach. The Authority has been meeting regularly since 2016, but some valley residents are unaware of the board or its task.

Additionally, the board’s pumping fee requires all pumpers (with the exception of domestic well owners who pump fewer than two acre-feet per year) to register and report their monthly usage.

The board has identified roughly two dozen wells they believe should be reporting and should be contributing to the pump fee. The board has received $196,000 to date since establishing the fee last year.

“I would like to see a sense of urgency on those 24 accounts that are unregistered,” said Gleason. “I think it’s unfair that these people are not making the fair contribution that they need to be making. I would like to assert this board’s authority to achieve that.”

Johnson said that the amount of water he expects these unregistered pumpers to be using is “not going to make a material difference in funding or cash flow,” but the board wants to be fair to everybody.

The board is planning to send out mailers to valley residents with a brief description of Groundwater Authority activities and where they can find more information.

The Authority initially sent out postcards regarding last year’s pump fee, but because it has an incomplete list of private well owners, some were never notified.

“This should go to all the APNs in the valley for outreach,” said Sophia Merk during public comment. “There’s a group of us that comes to all the water meetings and we’re familiar with it. But you can go out anywhere, and a lot of people don’t know what’s going on.”

Member of the public Elaine Mead suggested that mailers go to every address in all three affected counties – Kern, Inyo and San Bernardino. “This is a really important postcard,” she said.

“Like Don [Zdeba] said, you have to get personal. It says, ‘What does this mean for our local area?’ It needs to be more to the point – ‘What does this mean to you?’ That’s what you’re trying to do, talk to each individual party.”

Many members of the public also stressed the importance of creating something that people wouldn’t just throw away as junk mail.

Larry Mead added that Mojave Pistachio would be willing to contribute $2,000 to add color to the postcards to increase exposure.

The board approved the concept and Zdeba said that his staff would make further revisions before final approval.

John Vallejo, the IWV Groundwater Authority's Inyo County representative, and Chair Ron Kicinski (IWV Water District) discuss water importation during this month's IWVGA meeting. — Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2019-03-01