Commercial pumpers object to proposed groundwater model

Commercial pumpers object to  proposed groundwater modelBy BRIAN COSNER, News Review Staff Writer

Agricultural and industrial groundwater pumpers continued to express concerns about their proposed water allotment last week as Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority committees discussed groundwater modeling scenarios.

The IWVGA’s latest groundwater model — Model Scenario 6 — was identified earlier this month as a potential candidate to be used in the Authority’s Groundwater Sustainability Plan due in January 2020. The plan allows for a fixed block of groundwater pumping — 63,836 acre-feet — to be used by “nondomestic” pumpers, such as Searles Valley Minerals, Meadowbrook Dairy, Mojave Pistachios and other small farms, before they’re expected to cease pumping in 2040.

Derek Hoffman, attorney for Meadowbrook, said the aim of the modeling scenario seemed to be to get rid of agriculture in the IWV.

He added that the model as presented suggested that agricultural and industrial users were the only entities that were “mining the basin,” and questioned why domestic users and the Navy weren’t being asked to reduce their pumping.

In a letter to the Authority’s Police Advisory Committee, Hoffman’s firm said Water Resource Manager Steve Johnson has given estimates between 1-2.5 million acre-feet.

“In any event, the total proposed 63,836 acre-feet assigned to the nondomestic ‘pool’ represents a mere fraction of the total groundwater in storage, and is unacceptably low,” said the letter.

At an Aug. 7 PAC meeting, Hoffman said that SGMA requires that ”you have to utilize the best information and science. If the primary concern of the authority is loss of groundwater storage, and if that’s the primary basis for Model Scenario 6, how much usable water is in storage?”

The PAC also received a letter from Lagerlof, Senecal, Gosney & Kruse, attorneys representing Searles Valley Minerals. The letter said there was no explanation for grouping Searles with agriculture and that the company would be more appropriately grouped with municipal users.

The letter also identified Searles as pumping 1,213 acre-feet per year before the base presence in the valley and claimed that its rights should “have priority over the Navy’s.”

The Searles letter also mentions that its allotment is only a very small percentage of the estimated usable storage. “Considering the economic consequences, that amount is unreasonable.”

Claudia Ethan of Simmons Farm said she wasn’t given any pumping allotment because the pumping allocations were based only on entities that pumped from 2010-2014. Even though Simmons Farm began operating in 2012, its water use apparently wasn’t enough to register on the list of previous pumpers.

“I have heard this particular time period was an arbitrary time frame,” said Ethan. “We’re going to be cut off. I have financing that has to be paid off in 2023. I guess we’ll have to file bankruptcy.

“It’s disheartening that this has come so quickly And then what does it do to the land values? We have agricultural zoning, but we will have no water. This is our retirement, and I don’t know where we’re going to go from here.”

Ethan has been paying the Authority through the groundwater pumping fee that was levied last year. “We are good enough to pay the fee, but not good enough for a water allocation,” she said.

PAC Member Edward Imsand said he wanted to know how confident the Authority was on both the amount of water in storage and the pumping impact on shallow wells.

“I know of no one that’s actually done a survey or compiled a list … to confirm exactly which wells have gone dry,” said Jeff Helsley of Stetson Engineers.

He said his company’s estimate was for 91 wells based on when wells were drilled and assumed pumping, but he had only incidental information on three to four dry wells.

“This is a policy committee, and one of the policies I think that makes the most sense is that we support a diverse economy in our valley,” said PAC member Tim Carroll. He said “lopping off” agriculture could result in more water, but a less diverse economy.

Lorelei Oviatt from Kern County Planning mentioned that the county conducted an environmental impact report in recent years and that the “Kern County Board of Supervisors took a position that agriculture was not a land use appropriate for this valley.”

“I would suggest that as you debate this and try to go through it, you think about the unintended consequences of your actions,” said Elaine Mead during public comment.

“I have to agree with some of the comments about ag getting the axe. That is what’s happening. And I don’t think it’s the right way to do it.”

PAC Chair David Janiec clarified that the model was intended to be used only for the initial draft of the GSP, which would see revisions at least every five years.

The IWV Groundwater Authority met Thursday at City Hall to continue discussions. Details were not available at press time.

Story First Published: 2019-08-16