GA postpones well monitoring

GA postpones  well monitoringBy BRIAN COSNER, News Review Staff Writer

Wellntell gave an update on its Indian Wells Valley well-monitoring pilot program last week. IWV Groundwater Authority boardmembers and staff said they were pleased with the technology and its application — but expressed hesitance on spending money to continue the project, at least for now.

While members of the public cautioned the Authority against turning away a project that provided real-time data, boardmembers and staff said the information wasn’t “critical” enough in light of all the requirements for completing a Groundwater Sustainability Plan by next Jan. 30.

Lee Knudsen of Wellntell delivered the presentation, which included data from 10 different monitoring points throughout the basin. Knudsen’s data showed slight increases and decreases in well levels throughout the valley, with the exception of one well in the northwestern area of the basin.

The wall saw periodic sharp declines with gradual recoveries, but an overall downward trend to the tune of a foot or two over the observation period. Knudsen explained that the well was being impacted by a nearby agricultural operation and that he expected to see the well’s level increase as the irrigation season comes to an end.

Knudsen reported “virtually no change” overall among the other monitoring points, but added. “The longer you have this, the more value it’s going to yield. You’re going to understand more about what’s going on where.

“If you have more of these sensors scattered around the basin, you can start to pinpoint where water levels are changing and where management should be focused, which allows you to save money on where you’re allocating efforts and management actions.”

“Generally people were favorable of incorporating this and having this data available,” said Jeff Helsley of Stetson Engineers – the IWVGA’s water resources management firm. “We can see the strategic use of these wells in the GSP itself to try and monitor some of the shallow-well impacts that we’ll want to take a look at.”

But Helsley added that continuing with the service “comes down to a question of cash flow.”

“We certainly can make use of this information,” he said. “It’s not the critical information that’s needed for the GSP... but once we get the plan together, we’re going to have particular ares where this kind of information will fill in the gap as part of implementing the plan.”

“My eyes are on the GSP development right now,” said Mick Gleason, the Authority’s Kern County representative. “If we want to have a way to use this information, then I’m going to need a cost-benefit analysis, and I’m going to need that after the GSP is done and then we can review the data.”

“We’re not here to make a decision today,” said Authority Chair Ron Kicinski, the IWV Water District representative. “As good as this looks, the effort needs to be on getting the GSP completed.”

“I’m assuming more data is better data,” said Inyo County Representative John Vallejo. “And if that’s something that would be of great value to the GSP in making final decisions of this board, I think we should at least explore whether or not that value exists. And obviously the next step is how we are going to pay for it.”

Knudsen said the services provided so far were already “heavily discounted” and that it would be difficult to continue without being funded. “I’ve already stuck my neck out quite a bit to front the costs for this technology to show it to you so everyone understands the value ahead of GSP development,” he said.

Vallejo said he recognized that Wellntell might have to remove all sensors currently installed, but that the Authority just didn’t have the “current, immediate” funding to continue.

Authority Legal Counsel Jim Worth said the board wasn’t asking Wellntell to fund anything further and the project needed to be terminated.

“[The board has] already seen the technology, but we have to have our GSP done by Jan. 30,” said Worth. “So you might be getting a call from us in February or March of 2020 about possibly starting this back up and doing a program to fill in the data gaps.”

“I think that we’re being a little bit ‘penny wise and pound foolish’ to not take real data when we have a chance to get it,” said Tim Carroll, who is also a member of the Authority’s Policy Advisory Committee. He added that he didn’t think it was legal counsel’s place to clarify the position of boardmembers.

“I think we’re being very shortsighted to cut this off at this point in time,” said Mayor Peggy Breeden. Breeden. She was the Authority Chair last year, but said she was speaking as a member of the public.

“I think it’s important that this data is generated and kept. I don’t know how much money is involved. I’m not asking you to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars … I would like us to look at the cost for each individual well and see if you can fill any data gaps.”

Knudsen said that installation of the 10 monitoring points cost just shy of $12,000 with annual recurring costs of about $2,000 – “which is about a fourth of the cost for real-time continuous monitoring systems using other technologies,” he said.

Member of the public Larry Mead stressed the importance of clarifying data points such as the one northwestern well that appears to be in serious decline. He said publicizing such information without the proper context doesn’t appeal to developers or other interests looking to invest in Ridgecrest.

“I wish you guys would look at that and kind of define where the wells are and what’s going on around them,” said Mead. “Because it doesn’t look good for the Navy or anybody else.”

“That’s a good point by Larry,” said Knudsen. “And if this data was to continue to be generated, I think we’d see a response or a recovery in water levels come fall when the [agriculture] pumps shut off.”

Member of the public Stan Rajtora, also a director for IWVWD, said he recognized the importance of completing the GSP, but that the monitoring would provide good information for relatively little cost.

PAC member and domestic well owner West Katzenstein questioned why so many of the wells appeared to be static when overall basin decline is estimated to be six inches per year. “I would think data from a system like this should be validated by comparing the numbers with the numbers that are taken yearly around the basin,” he said.

But well owner Judie Decker, also a PAC member, said the Authority had enough data to move forward with GSP development. “I think you have been sidetracked,” she said. “That was interesting but as other people have stated – you are way behind on the GSP. You need to concentrate all of your money and all of your time on completing that.”

Helsley said that the monitoring technology provided valuable information and he would like to continue getting it. But when Gleason asked if he was willing to spend money on the project versus other tasks, Helsley said, “Not with everything we’ve got in front of us.”

The item was on the agenda only as a presentation and the board took no official action. The Authority is not scheduled to meet next month, but will resume its regular meeting schedule – the third Thursday of the month – in August. For more information visit iwvga.org.

Pictured: Lee Knudsen briefs the IWV Groundwater Authority board on Wellntell’s monitoring technology earlier this year — Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2019-06-28