Kicinski discusses water, encroachment

Kicinski discusses water, encroachmentUPDATE: Sections of this article have been removed for inaccuracies. See future editions for further clarification.

By BRIAN COSNER, News Review Staff Writer

Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority Chair Ron Kicinski addressed members and guests of the Ridgecrest Exchange club Wednesday afternoon where he fielded questions – mostly about GA activities. Kicinski is also president of the IWV Water District Board of Directors.

A more recent development of the GA is what is now being referred to as “the Navy Letter” – a letter from the Department of the Navy deeming groundwater resources as a primary encroachment concern to the mission of Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake. The letter is dated Feb. 20, 2019 and signed by NAWS Commanding Officer Capt. Paul M. Dale.

Despite being referred to as a “game-changing” development by Authority representatives, encroachment concerns predate the formation of the IWVGA. A panel, which included Authority representative Kern County 1st District Supervisor Mick Gleason and then Navy Region Southwest Commander Rear Adm. Patrick Lorge (ret.), addressed the topic about four years ago at an Association off Defense Communities conference in Monterey.

“When there is a resource or when you have a certain capability that exists in only one spot – anything that threatens its existence is encroachment,” said Lorge.

When asked how the Navy Letter changed the priority of avoiding encroachment and preserving the Mission of NAWS China Lake, Kicinski said “this is the first time we’ve seen it in writing.”

“I know the base in the past has mentioned encroachment, I think what’s made a difference is now it’s official,” said Kicinski. “It’s been implied in the past, but now they’re officially naming their federal reserved water rights.”

Attendee Pat Farris said to bring encroachment forward as a new “game-changing” topic seemed disingenuous.

“They brought this very thing forward several years ago with a lot of impetus,” said Farris. “I don’t think it’s right to present this like something new and say ‘oh wow, now we’ve got to take a new approach.’ The mission of the base has always been a top priority.”

“What was said about encroachment from the Navy in the past – I wasn’t there,” said Kicinski. “The first time I ever heard it was when [Supervisor Gleason] was trying to change the zoning. We’ve always known [the Navy] is a major economic driver, but I have to believe this is the first time the Navy’s legal has come together to make this statement official.”

The News Review reached out to Gleason for follow-up comment, but he had not responded at press time.

The conversation turned to the question of water rights and to what extent the health of the Ridgecrest community was itself an asset to the Navy’s mission.

Larry Mead emphasized that outside of an adjudicated groundwater basin, no pumper has a distinct right to groundwater in California.

“I don’t know if a lot of people understand that,” he said. “No one has a water right, they have historical pumping.”

According to the State Water Resources Control Board, anybody can pump groundwater for domestic purposes or “beneficial use” – defined as agricultural, special biological significance, habitat, fishing, industrial service, municipal service and other uses.

“We need to be very careful when we say ‘the Navy needs all the water they need for growth,’” said Mead.

“If you say [people] who don’t work on base don’t get water, but [people] who do work on the base do, that is very scary.”

“How do you identify who supports the base?” continued Kicinski. “I think it’s easier to identify who doesn’t. Just because somebody doesn’t directly support the base, someone who owns a restaurant makes it an attractive community for workers. I think everybody in the community supports the base.”

Kicinski said that the base has relocated some 13,000 residents to the community of the years. Attendee Elaine Mead suggested that by doing so, the Navy may have handed off the responsibility of water availability largely to the IWV Water District.

No one had immediate answers for questions regarding groundwater rights and allocations, but the IWVGA will continue to discuss a Groundwater Sustainability Plan and other topics during it’s regular meeting next Thursday, March 21, 11 a.m. at City Hall.

For an agenda and more information, visit iwvga.org/iwvga-meetings.

Story First Published: 2019-03-15