Navy identifies groundwater as No. 1 encroachment issue

Navy identifies groundwater as  No. 1 encroachment issueCommander Peter Benson reads the Navy’s encroachment letter during last month’s IWV Groundwater Authority meeting. Photo by Laura Austin

------

By BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

“Groundwater [is] the number one encroachment concern/issue which has the potential to impact missions enabled on and around Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake,” said a letter from NAWS China Lake signed by Commanding Officer Capt. Paul M. Dale.

The letter was read during closing comments of this month’s Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority board meeting by the Navy’s advisory member Cmdr. Pete Benson. The letter also specifies that this message is shared by Commander, Navy Region Southwest.

The letter goes on to say that the Navy will continue being a “good neighbor” by helping the Authority “with comprehensive planning efforts to achieve groundwater sustainability” as directed by the Sustainable Groundwater Manage-ment Act. But the letter makes clear NAWS’s Federal Reserve Water Rights and that “federal law will prevail” if the Navy’s needs come in conflict with those of the Authority.

“The Navy’s human capital and its ability to recruit and retain talented personnel is integral to these critical national defense missions,” says the letter.

“We must emphasize the importance of Navy civilian and military personnel’s continued access to economically viable potable water as critical to the IWVGA’s implementation of SGMA.

“In implementing SGMA, the Department of Water Resources classified the IWV groundwater basin as ‘Critically Overdrafted’ in January 2016. Therefore, an imbalance between pumping and recharge associated with the basin creates growing concern, despite the efforts and cooperation of community stakeholders.”

“The letter is pretty succinct,” said IWVGA Chair Ron Kicinski in a later interview. “We need to resolve this problem quickly and with satisfaction to the mission of the base.”

Kicinski said the announcement came as a surprise to him during the meeting.

“The letter is going to impact how decisions are going to be made — that’s all I can tell you,” said Kicinski.

He said he didn’t know how the message might change the way the Authority is moving toward a groundwater sustainability plan, but more specific information might develop over the weeks as the various member agencies – such as the IWV Water District and the Ridgecrest City Council – have a chance to digest the information.

“The city wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the base, and the base needs an attractive community that will keep their hires here,” he said.

“The base is what it’s all about here. If we can’t solve the problem to their satisfaction, I can’t say what would happen.

The Authority is currently planning its final year of GSP development before a plan is due to be submitted to the state in 2020.

For more information, including a copy of the Navy’s letter, visit iwvga.org/iwvga-meetings.

Story First Published: 2019-03-08