Stephens questions Hayman about GA

Stephens questions Hayman about GABy BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

During his update to the Ridgecrest City Council on groundwater matters, Councilmember Scott Hayman was met by a barrage of questions from Mayor Pro Tem Lindsey Stephens.

Stephens raised concerns about a proposed scenario that would heavily restrict water use for Trona’s Searles Valley Minerals, which employs an estimated 400-600 Ridgecrest residents. Other commercial pumpers, specifically agricultural interests, were also assigned proposed allocations before being expected to cease operations.

“I have concerns talking about cutting off these industries when we’re saying we’re still going to need to import water,” said Stephens. “If we’re cutting off these large users that have more money, then we’re leaving only the citizens left to pay the bill for building the pipelines and importing the water.”

The groundwater pumping scenario, Model Scenario 6, most recently reviewed by the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority’s Technical Advisory Committee gives SVM about five years to wind down operations if it continues to pump water at the current rate. Agricultural interests are allotted anywhere from eight months to nine years worth, partly based on historic pumping.

Legal representation for Searles Valley Minerals has contacted the Authority saying that the company has a right to groundwater in the IWV that predates the Navy’s pumping.

“The denial of all economic use of Searles’ property could be considered a taking for eminent domain purposes, and entitle Searles to the value of its property (including mineral rights) as compensation,” says a letter from Searles’ legal firm, Lagerlof Senecal Gosney and Kruse. “It is not clear why a continuing allocation is given to the [Indian Wells Valley] Water District and not Searles … the argument that municipal use has a water rights priority over industrial use has never been accepted by a court.”

The scenario also incorporates importing as much as 2,500 acre-feet of water annually to offset the impact to our groundwater storage. But both the Authority and members of the public have cautioned against assuming the availability or affordability of imported water.

Stephens also questioned the Authority’s estimated annual growth rate (1 percent) and annual recharge rate (7,650 acre-feet) used to drive the model. Representatives of Stetson Engineers, the Authority’s consulting firm, say they have made assumptions but are working with the best data available.

I’m not sure I’m the one to question the validity of these tests,” said Hayman, who serves as the city’s representative on the Authority. “We’re dealing with engineers and scientists – guys far more educated in their fields than myself.”

Mayor Peggy Breeden weighed in to say that the models were based on known well usage and recharge estimates, but also that there’s “no way to cut off anybody at this point in time.”

She said the Authority is looking at “many, many options.”

But Stephens said that limiting pumping to the extent suggested in the latest model is basically cutting industrial users off.

“Searles Valley Minerals does have a significant impact on the Ridgecrest economy,” said Stan Rajtora during public comment. “My feeling is the GA should be working with Searles Valley, not just telling them how much water they can or cannot have.

He added that he has been to every pertinent meeting for the last three years. “I have not seen any mention of how we are going to help Searles Valley Minerals stay alive. Our economy demands that we keep them alive. I don’t know what the solution is, but I would like to see the GA do more,” said Rajtora.

Dave Matthews also asked from the audience why the Authority isn’t requesting an extension for the Groundwater Sustainability Plan, which is due by the end of January.

“We just had a major earthquake,” said Matthews. “We don’t know for sure if we even have the same flow in this valley. I suggest we [request an extension].”

Rajtora added that with an allotted three months for a final review of the GSP, the Authority has only two to three months to finish the plan.

“We’re only a few months out and we haven’t even chosen which modeling scenario we’re going to use,” said Stephens. “Are we looking at asking for an extension?”

Hayman said the Authority would continue to shoot for completing the plan by the current deadline. “I’m sure the Authority will bear that out; that’s not my decision.”

Hayman said he understands Stephens’ desire to air her concerns, but questioned her grilling him during the meeting.

The item is a recurring item on council’s agenda for council give its representative guidance on upcoming Authority matters.

“I almost feel like I’m being threatened out to the end of a limb here,” said Hayman.

Stephens said she wasn’t trying to target Hayman, but asking him as he’s the city’s advocate on the Authority board.

With no published agenda for the next Authority meeting – which won’t be until Sept. 19 – council gave no specific direction to Hayman.

For future meeting notices and more on the Authority, see iwvga.org.

Pictured: Mayor Pro Tem Lindsey Stephens — Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2019-08-30