Stetson seeks direction for groundwater plan

Water Resources Manager expresses frustrations: ‘We’re getting into a bit of a jam...’

Stetson seeks direction for groundwater planBy BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

As the deadline for a Groundwater Sustainability Plan looms, the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority continues to explore its options on how to bring our groundwater basin to a sustainable yield.

According to state requirements, the Authority has until the end of January to develop a plan that will reduce our average annual pumping of some 25,000 acre-feet of groundwater to less than our estimated annual recharge of 7,650 acre-feet by 2040, or find additional water resources to meet those excess needs.

“We’re getting into a bit of a jam on the GSP right now,” said Water Resources Manager Steve Johnson of Stetson Engineers at a recent Technical Advisory Committee meeting. “We’re getting some pushback on some of the approaches that we’ve had – there is a big push that the idea of getting imported water is not a good one.

“There’s a certain amount of real frustration right now on what we need to do to go forward and how we’re going to get there. I’m hoping over the next 7-10 days that will become more clear.”

Johnson said that while he believes that GSP development was “moving along very well” for a while, his team needs direction from the Authority on a way forward amid concerns of the fiscal and infrastructural feasibility of water importation.

Some Authority boardmembers – namely Inyo County Representative John Vallejo and Kern County Representative 1st District Supervisor Mick Gleason – have questioned both the affordability and the availability of imported water for the IWV.

“I’m still optimistic,” said Johnson. “We wouldn’t have recommended hiring water marketers if we didn’t believe [importation] was a possibility. But the GSP we’re putting together now needs to be very aggressive on reducing pumping.”

Another topic of discussion included capturing excess water released by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power during wet years. While that isn’t thought to be enough to solve our water woes with out reducing pumping, the board continues to look at any and all options.

“DWP released 2,090 acre-feet in 2017,” said Zdeba. “They were releasing water in 2017 in March, so I wouldn’t be surprised if pretty soon they started releasing it here soon.”

Member of the public Sophia Merk recently commented that the Bureau of Land Management should know when and where DWP intends to release water and that the Authority needs to communicate with its BLM representative.

The question remains on whether we have infrastructure in place to capture the water and store it in our aquifer.

During an IWV Water District board meeting, Director David Saint-Amand suggested a permanent location for DWP to dump water to capture as much as possible and mitigate evaporation.

During the public comment portion of the same meeting, Pat Farris asked if it was a little late to be discussing whether importing water is feasible.

She added that the Authority should be doing more to fill the data gaps of our water availability. “We may be trying to solve a problem that we may not have.”

“I tend to agree with [Farris] that we need to do a little more research in our area rather than thinking we’re going to import water,” said Director Chuck Cordell.

Saint-Amand said that groundwater recharge is already “fairly well understood.”

“I don’t know if there’s a whole lot of extra water to be found,” he added, explaining that the flow from the Sierra Nevada was already accounted for in our estimated annual recharge.

However in a recent presentation regarding a hydrogeological conceptual model for the IWV, Tim Parker of Parker Groundwater said that there “could be a good amount” of water coming from the Sierra Nevada fault zone and that the potential amount is unknown.

Several parties have also frequently mentioned the large southwestern portion of the basin – known as the El Paso region – about which local authorities have have little data.

Director Stan Rajtora said that Stetson Engineers has approval to move forward with some monitoring (and possible production) wells for the El Paso region.

“That’s an ongoing effort we’ve been talking about now for six months or a year that is finally coming to fruition,” said Rajtora. “So that’s another thing which is being looked at and can’t be ignored.”

The Groundwater Authority next meets on Thursday, April 18, at 11 a.m. An agenda will be available at iwvga.org. Information on committee and board meetings may also be found on the city of Ridgecrest’s YouTube channel.

Pictured: Water Resources Manager Steve Johnson of Stetson Engineers during an earlier IWV Groundwater Authority meeting — Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2019-04-12