Water marketers brief Groundwater Authority

Authority ‘looking at all opportunities’ in the midst of feasibility concerns

Water marketers brief Groundwater AuthorityBy BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

Water marketers have “hit the ground running” in search of an alternative water supply for the Indian Wells Valley, according to Todd Tatum, representing Capitol Core Group. The firm was hired earlier this year by the IWV Groundwater Authority to research the feasibility of imported water.

The Authority is less than a year away from the state’s Groundwater Sustainability Plan deadline, and there has been some debate about whether the board can secure an available water source in time, if at all.

“I think I expressed some frustrations because we hadn’t been moving along as fast as we’d like,” said Water Resources Manager Steve Johnson.

Johnson said that bringing all the information from the Authority’s committees together with that of the legal allocation group to come up with “an acceptable plan got a little frustrating over the last couple of weeks.”

“But we’re trying to find a way to work through this. I’m encouraged, we’re reenergized, that frustration is gone. We’re moving forward.”

Todd Tatum, representing CCG, gave a brief presentation to the board during its April meeting. The firm’s first task includes looking at various water acquisition and delivery options as well as associated costs.

“We’ve already had a meeting with potential water sellers, and next week we have three more meetings,” said Tatum. “[We’re] committed to making sure that you do have more than one option for delivery of the water into this valley.”

Tatum said the firm has plans to meet with 14-15 water sellers, many of which they hope to contact at the Association of California Water Agencies Spring conference in May.

“I wish we had more to report,” said Tatum. “I anticipate that at our May meeting we’ll have a lot more to report.”

“Inyo County will continue to be concerned about where your alternate sources of water are,” said Inyo County’s representative, 5th District Supervisor Matt Kingsley.

Inyo County representatives have made it clear since the formation of the IWVGA that it’s unlikely for their county to be willing or able to provide an alternative water source as they deal with their own overdrafted basins.

“We’ll be wanting to be engaged early on as you look at those different options,” said Kingsley.

“Inyo County is one of our first meetings,” said Tatum. “We want to come up there and get to know you and be open and transparent with you all.

“You also remind me that I might not get invited to family gatherings in the Owens Valley where my family has been since the turn of the century if I do anything to upset you all up there,” he joked.

In a later interview, Kern County’s representative, 1st District Supervisor Mick Gleason, spoke of concerns that importing water might not be affordable or available in time to meet the GSP deadline.

“I don’t know that imported water is going to be too expensive,” said Gleason. “I think it will be. But that’s why we hired our water marketer guy. How we’re going to navigate our way toward having an augmented water supply – we just don’t know enough yet. I think we need to seize every opportunity.

“Several people have stated that an augmented water supply is going to be required one way or another. Unless something changes, the amount of recharge we have in this basin needs to be augmented to accommodate our future.

“But I think imported water is going to be expensive, and it’s going to be unreliable,” he said. He continued that the group needs to look at desalination, water banking, recycled water and any other available strategies.

He reiterated that the valley is pumping an estimated four to five times the amount of water that naturally recharges into our basin.

He said an early groundwater modeling run shows that our current pumping behavior remains viable for about 60-70 years with no changes. He said he’d like to adopt a strategy that “pushes that number out to 100-150 years while we continue to look for long-term solutions.”

But Department of Water Resources representatives have said on more than one occasion that the state is looking at only one thing, and that’s no more declining groundwater tables. If our GSP doesn’t put us on track to halt decline by 2040, the state is authorized to step in to manage sustainability efforts until we’re on track.

“I’m concerned about that,” said Gleason, “but I’m more concerned about true sustainability … We have to be able to build a GSP that can provide for flexibiltiy, changing strategies and alternate tactics.

“I think there’re going to be changes in the plan based on weather changes, new discoveries. Maybe our recharge is different than what we think it is. We’re making the best decisions we can with imperfect data. We need to be able to change vectors when we need to.”

“I’m talking to DWR next month,” he said. “They have to understand we are in a unique situation in this valley. There is no other valley or water problem in California that is similar to ours, so we’re going to require unique solutions.”

He added that even if our GSP receives tentative approval, it’s likely that things will change as the Authority gets more information and pursues other strategies and the plan may need to be readdressed years down the road.

The IWVGA meets next on Thursday, May 16, at Ridgecrest City Hall. The Policy Advisory and Technical Advisory committees normally meet the first Thursday of the month. All meetings are now held at City Hall and are recorded. More information and links to recorded meetings are available at iwvga.org.

Pictured: IWV Groundwater Authority’s Kern County representative 1st District Supervisor Mick Gleason — Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2019-04-26