GA moves forward with well-registration ordinance

GA moves forward with well-registration ordinanceBy BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

With the deadline for a Groundwater Sustainability Plan looming, the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority had a first reading of its mandatory well registration ordinance during its meeting last week.

The Authority is required to revisit the ordinance during its August meeting before formal passage. The ordinance requires all well owners within the IWV groundwater basin boundaries to register the name and contract address of the owner; location of the well; whether the water is used for residential, commercial, industrial or agricultural purposes; annual production figures and agricultural acreage among other information.

The Authority’s first ordinance had an exemption for “de minimis” pumpers – households that pump fewer than two acre-feet (about 652,000 gallons) per year for domestic purposes. De minimis pumpers are currently exempt from the Authority’s groundwater pumping fees.

But the Authority is now looking to account for all of the working wells in the valley “to properly adopt, implement and administer the basin’s Groundwater Sustainability Plan,” says the ordinance. Authority counsel Jim Worth said the board recently sent out 4,000 postcards in an effort to register de minimis pumpers. Only one well owner registered as a result.

“So outreach and asking for voluntary registration aren’t really getting us anywhere,” said Worth. “We’ve determined that the best thing to do would be to adopt an ordinance requiring all well owners in the basin to register their wells by Oct. 1.”

The Authority’s Groundwater Sustainability Plan is due to the state by Jan. 31, 2020.

Member of the public Judie Decker asked how the board would know if everybody was registered and how the board would enforce the registration.

“Unfortunately we don’t have a list of existing wells we’re able to just check off as we did registration,” said Worth. “The effort to identify wells and have them registered is going to be an ongoing process. We don’t have a procedure or process laid out how we’re going to do that.”

Authority Boardmember Mick Gleason, Kern County’s representative, said that the county does have a list of registered owners that goes back to the early 1980s, but Worth said it was only a partial list. The list is also limited to just names, said Gleason, and the board is seeking more well information than the list provides.

“How do you plan on informing people?” asked Decker. She said the postcard mailing was “abysmal” and that none of the Domestic Well Owners Association boardmembers received one.

“We know of over 50 people who did not get it. If you can’t get your postcards mailed to the well owners, how are you going to inform them that they need to do this with a deadline of Oct. 1?”

Authority Chair Ron Kicinski said he didn’t know if the board had an immediate answer.

Member of the public Skip Goreman suggested that the Authority should simplify the registration forms and not request so much information.

More members of the public pointed out that requiring well owners to register and provide information would most certainly be met with resistance.

Member of the public Nick Panzer pointed out that the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act did not allow the Authority to require metering or reporting from de minimis users. But member agencies can require some degree of regulation.

“And I think that has to be done,” said Panzer. He said that hundreds of private wells allowed to pump as much as two acre-feet per year is “way too high a percentage of our natural recharge.”

According to the Authority’s most recent estimates, domestic wells make up about 2.4 percent of the basin’s annual pumping.

Jim Markman, the Authority’s special counsel, said he’s “been through a few skirmishes” where people with small private wells don’t like giving up information.

He said the board’s future production allocations and pumping limitations could negatively impact domestic wells, and people will want to seek repairs or mitigation.

“It’s really hard for the water resource manager to give a good prediction of what that destruction or harm could be,” said Markman. “People view this as something that’s invasive and is going to harm them because they don’t like giving up information, and I understand that. But this is information which ultimately will protect them.”

“I think this is an invasion on their routines and their understanding of their water rights,” said Gleason. “They have to surrender information to a new level of government … and it’s going to cost them money. But I believe this is a mandatory first step. We have to get information.”

Gleason said he welcomes input from the domestic well community on how to find a solution.

“I don’t think there’s a solution you can write down in words,” said Don Decker. “The association recognizes there are benefits. It really is to the advantage of those well owners. But the negative aspects, which are substantially emotional in their content, can’t be erased by some logical arguments that are connected with the benefits.

“People are in a ‘put up the barricades’ kind of mode.”

The meeting packet with the complete ordinance (Ordinance No. 01-19) can be found at iwvga.org/iwvga-meetings.

Story First Published: 2019-07-26