Imported water costs ‘not acceptable’

Imported  water costs ‘not acceptable’By BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

“Importing water is going to be critical to us continuing to grow. But I don’t believe it’s coming from the south,” said 1st District Supervisor Mick Gleason, Kern County’s representative to the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority.

Water marketing firm Capitol Core Group gave an imported water update to the Authority board during its meeting last week, but the update was met with little enthusiasm.

“On the infrastructure side – no matter how you look at it, there are only two ways to get water into the Indian Wells Valley basin,” said CCG’s Todd Tatum. The two options he presented were to partner with either the Antelope Valley-East Kern Water Agency or Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

Importing water through the AVEK Water Agency would require 60 miles of transportation infrastructure with an estimated cost of $177 million – not including the cost of transport, treatment or the actual water.

Infrastructure costs to acquire water from LADWP via the Los Angeles Aqueduct – which carries water to L.A. from the Owens Valley to the north – were estimated at $55 million. But the board and members of the public have always regarded a long-term arrangement with LADWP with skepticism.

“I think we would be doing our constituents a disservice if we solely focused on water involving LADWP and the water they take from Owens Valley,” said Inyo County representative John Vallejo. “To expect L.A. would enter into an agreement in the first place is, in my opinion, wishful thinking.”

He added that expecting the communities of Inyo County to allow Owens Valley water to be directed here was equally unlikely.

Vallejo suggested that the board seek funding opportunities, and perhaps assistance from the Navy, to pay for infrastructure to import water from elsewhere.

Authority Chair Ron Kicinski said the import costs as presented were “not acceptable” for a community of our size. By his rough calculations, Kicinski said, valley residents would be paying nearly $100 per capita for infrastructure and transportation alone, not including the premium cost of imported water.

“It just isn’t going to work,” said Kicinski.

But Water Resource Manager Steve Johnson of Stetson Engineers said that acquiring imported water would be crucial to the basin’s Groundwater Sustainability Plan, due to the state by January next year.

“Without imported water, we will have to cut back production to avoid significant overdraft,” said Johnson. “But if we cut back below the safe yield, it will have devastating impacts on this community.”

One of the Authority’s latest groundwater modeling scenarios includes a drastic rampdown of groundwater pumping, particularly for large agricultural and industrial pumpers. Many stakeholders have argued that domestic consumption should

be prioritized as a matter of public health, while others raise concerns about the economic impacts of limiting commercial pumping (see last week’s News Review).

The latest modeling scenario allows for roughly five more years of operation for Searles Valley Minerals at its current pumping rate. Some farms are allotted as little as eight months at current levels before they would be required to cease pumping.

“Searles Valley Minerals is a vital part of this community,” said Chuck Griffin during public comment. “They need the reassurance that Searles Valley isn’t going anywhere. That’s 600-800 jobs.

Griffin said that the large southwestern portion of the basin had no test wells and has gone largely untapped.

He recommended pumping from that area in addition to buying out agriculture if necessary, rather than just requiring ag operations to cease pumping.

“There are options out there,” said Griffin. “Looking at spending $177 million just to get water here doesn’t make sense.”

Kicinski said that as a boardmember, he had “no intention of seeing Searles Valley Minerals disappear off the map. I think we are one with Trona in that respect.

“I can’t imagine anybody wanting to see an industry like that go away.”

He said the public could “rest assured” that the board would work with Searles Valley, but provided no details on how it would do so.

Joshua Nugent of Mojave Pistachios also questioned the validity of the modeling scenario’s assumptions. He said the study used to estimate the amount of groundwater in storage only covered a small percentage of the basin.

“There’s no credible basis that small portion is the only waterbearing part of the basin,” said Nugent.

Johnson and others have clarified that the predictive modeling scenario is only an attempt to determine long-term basin impacts and that the GSP is not restricted to the predictions.

“We don’t know what all the impacts will be on the basin,” said Johnson.

““That’s part of the ongoing management of the sustainability plan, but there are a lot of uncertainties.”

Groundwater management efforts are currently funded by a groundwater pumping fee that was approved last year.

Doreen Baker of Sierra Shadows Ranch said that by losing agriculture, the Authority will also be losing one of its larger funding sources.

The next IWVGA meeting will be Thursday, Sept. 19, 11 a.m. at City Hall.

For information, visit iwvga.org.

Pictured: John Vallejo, Inyo County’s representative to the IWV Groundwater Authority — Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2019-08-23