Groundwater model discussed

Groundwater model discussedBy BRIAN COSNER, News Review Staff Writer

The Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority Technical Advisory Committee discussed its latest groundwater modeling scenario earlier this month. According to Jeff Helsley with Stetson Engineers, the latest model is a “potentially viable, acceptable solution” to developing a Groundwater Sustainability Plan by 2020.

Rather than gradually ramping down pumping from larger groundwater pumpers like agricultural and industrial users, the model assigns each nondomestic, nonmunicipal, non-federal pumper a “block” of water to use by 2040. The assigned blocks are proportional to each entity’s recorded use from 2010-14.

According to the TAC’s projections, these allocations put commercial pumpers on a timer — ranging from several years to a matter of months at their current pumping rates.

The model also assumes a 1-percent growth rate for IWV Water District demands.

Josh Nugent of Mojave Pistachio and Nugent Ranch said he was “shocked and disheartened” by the proposed scenario, which would provide Mojave Pistachio with only eight months of continued operations.

“The collaborative spirit of [the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act] and the expressed directive to take into consideration all stakeholders — including agriculture – has been ignored and upended,” said Nugent. “It seems like our water rights are being taken in an arbitrary and capricious way … ignoring our $25 million investment and the livelihood of our farmers and workers.”

Nugent also said that too much of the proposed groundwater policy was the result of closed-session committee meetings.

“This modeling scenario – it drives agriculture out of the basin,” said Derek Hoffman, attorney for Meadowbrook Dairy. “Agriculture is paying one of the highest fees in the state to develop this local plan. Who pays for the imported water infrastructure and the imported water?”

Water Resource Manager Steve Johnson of Stetson Engineers said that imported water was going to be required, regardless of which iteration of the modeling scenarios was selected. Both versions of the latest modeling scenarios – called Models 6.1 and 6.2 – take into account the valley pumping 11,252 acre-feet annually. With an estimated annual natural recharge of 7,650 acre-feet, the difference is expected to be made up by recycled and imported water.

Member of the public and Policy Advisory Committee member Nick Panzer said he didn’t think our GSP would be approved by the State Department of Water Resources if it counted on imported water to be achievable.

“We have to demonstrate and explain the overcoming of all the major hurdles associated with importing,” said Panzer. “That includes legal, political, especially financial, environmental and contractual issues. Until those issues are overcome and clearly explained, there will be no basis to rely upon [imported water] in the GSP, as I read the regulations.”

Capitol Core Group – hired by the Authority as an importation consultant – has yet to give a detailed report to the board on its progress in identifying the availability or feasibility of importing water.

TAC Vice Chair and large agricultural representative Eddie Teasdale said there was “a lot of uncertainty” in the model as it currently exists and questioned whether it would be “defensible.”

Helsley said the Authority still didn’t have access to complete records of the relevant pumpers included in the modeling scenario and that the model is based on self-reported pumping figures from 2013. He said the model would need to undergo a verification process.

TAC member Tim Parker, a nonvoting representative for the IWVWD, also asked if the older reports used for the model were the “best available science.”

“We want to look at things from different angles using different tools,” said Parker. “None of them are going to be exactly right. The uncertainty associated with these estimates is very important to understand during the decision-making process.”

He added that there was still little data regarding a large southwestern portion of the basin, referred to as the El Paso Region.

“This is all just for modeling purposes,” said Johnson.

“Things are a little backwards from how we would normally do something like this,” he admitted. “There has not been any verification work done, realistically. That needs to be done. That’s all stuff the [Authority] board is going to have done.”

When asked how much pumpers with specific allocations were going to be charged per acre-foot, Johnson said that would also be a board decision after the GSP is approved. Currently pumpers are paying $30 per acre-foot in Authority fees. The average residential hookup pumps .8 acre-feet of water annually, while heavy agricultural pumpers can use thousands of acre-feet per year.

As the discussion wound down, Teasdale said the modeling scenerios were “not crystal balls,” but tools.

“It’s a tool, and probably one of the best tools we have,” said Teasdale. “But it’s going to be perfected as we move forward. The proof is going to be in the pudding.”

A TAC report will be given to the Authority during its regular meeting on Aug. 15. For more information, visit iwvga.org.

Story First Published: 2019-08-09