Groundwater board hears importation cost update

Boardmembers question affordability of importing water

Groundwater board hears importation cost updateIWV Groundwater Authority representatives Robert Lovingood (San Bernardino County), John Vallejo (Inyo County), Ron Kicinski (IWV Water District) and Mick Gleason (Kern County) weigh costs of water importation during last week’s meeting — Photo by Laura Austin

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By BRIAN COSNER, News Review Staff Writer

“I just want everybody to understand the costs,” said Kern County 1st District Supervisor Mick Gleason on the subject of water importation during last week’s Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority meeting.

Jeff Helsley of Stetson Engineers delivered an update on the Authority’s plan of action and milestones where one of the items was evaluating potential imported water supply sources.

“Is it feasible?” asked Gleason. “Is the water there? Is it something we can achieve … Is it cost-efficient? What did we discover out of spending $153,000 on that item?”

Helsley reported that Stetson, the board’s water resources management firm, identified some facilities within reach such as the Antelope Valley-East Kern Water Agency. Stetson has also looked at the costs for acquiring water from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

“We looked at bringing 15,000 acre-feet of water in,” said Helsley. “When we started this study, the [Technical Advisory Committee] hadn’t gone through a lot of discussion so it’s looking nowadays like we might not need that much water, but that’s what we looked at.”

According to Helsley, it would cost something along the lines of $2,000 per acre-foot of water through the LADWP, or $30 million for 15,000 acre-feet. Bringing water in through AVEK Water Agency would be closer to $3,000 per acre-foot he said, adding that the costs included infrastructure.

“I keep hearing that we hope we don’t have to import any water,” said IWV Water District Director and GA Chair Ron Kicinski. “I want to go on record saying I don’t believe that’s possible. The numbers haven’t shown that.”

Kicinski said that the needs of the water district, NAWS China Lake, Searles Valley Minerals and valley residents – even while reducing agricultural pumping to zero – still exceed the basin’s natural recharge.

“I think [importation] needs to be in the discussion,” said Kicinski. “Is it 15,000 acre-feet? I don’t think that’s the number. I think that if we work toward where we’re headed, it’s more in the neighborhood of 3,000-5,000 acre-feet. And yes, it will be expensive. I don’t deny that.”

The GA estimates our basin’s recharge to be between 7,000-8,00 acre-feet per year, versus pumping between 25,000-30,000 annually. But according to consulting hydrogeologist Tim Parker’s hydrogeological conceptual model presentation last week, more data is required to have a better understanding of our water availability.

According to Parker, two data gaps are in a large southwestern portion of the basin that isn’t monitored and the amount of water coming in from Sierra Nevada faults.

“The numbers are the numbers. We don’t maintain without importation, that’s true,” said Inyo County Representative John Vallejo. “I think that the purpose of this agency here is to decide what are our sustainability criteria.

“But if those sustainability criteria can’t be met … what can the local agencies and local users absorb in terms of costs?

“I think we’re getting to the point where people need to put their cards on the table – what can we absorb in terms of cost? Because if users in this basin can’t absorb the costs, then we have to look at the worst-case scenario.”

Vallejo stressed the importance of modeling the impact on shallow wells as if the GA has no imported water available.

“If we’re not planning for that now, then we’re just setting ourselves up for failure,” he said. “Because our deadline is in December.”

“I don’t believe this board can say to the community, ‘Don’t grow,’” said Kicinski. “I don’t believe we can or would want to. We’re always talking about modest growth – it’s tied to the requirement for personnel on the base. We need to be prepared to sustain that.”

While concerns about importations feasibility are increasing, the board approved $240,000 for Capital Core Group to proceed with its contract for water marketing consulting services, which includes evaluating potentially viable options for acquiring imported water.

During public comment, Judie Decker said that importation would be a necessity.

“I remember when Apple Valley, Victorville and Hesperia were tiny towns,” she said. “I look at Lancaster and Palmdale … they have all grown because of imported water.”

Member of the public West Katzenstein verbalized the paradox facing the GA.

“A lot of my friends argue about it,” he said. “It’s impossible to import water and it’s impossible to survive without importing water.

“But [the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act] says you cannot plan on imported water until you know the source of that water and how much water you’re going to have in hand — and I suppose we should say if it’s affordable as well. So if we put in a plan that assumes we’re going to be successful in importing water, that plan might be rejected.”

He suggested pursuing imported water, but drafting a plan that didn’t rely on its availability.

Mallory Boyd asked if the board was looking into using more recycled water.

“Is it too early to know if the costs are comparable to importing water?” he asked.

Vallejo said recycling water was being discussed at the committee level, but that the costs and details were still in the “conceptual phase.”

“This is something I’m glad we’re doing,” said Gleason in regard to further exploring importation.

“I think we need to wring this out whether it’s real or not. We need to have sound logic to support any decision we make.”

The approval of water marketing consulting services was included in the IWVGA’s 2019 budget, which the board approved during the meeting.

Story First Published: 2019-03-29