Are water allocations being ‘pushed too hard?’

Are water  allocations being  ‘pushed too hard?’By BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

With a Groundwater Sustainability Plan due by the end of January, the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority is moving quickly forward with a plan based on its latest groundwater modeling scenarios.

But questions have been raised regarding whether the authority has enough information to proceed with its proposed water allocations.

The authority recently suggested allotting a finite amount of water over the next few years to various “nondomestic” pumpers — including Searles Valley Minerals, Meadowbrook Dairy, Sierra Shadows Ranch, Mojave Pistachio and other agricultural outfits. Some of these groups will be left with enough water for only a few more years of operation, and only months for others.

During the IWVGA’s Technical Advisory Committee meeting, member of the public Larry Mead asked if the authority is seeking more data in less-explored parts of the basin, specifically the southwestern El Paso region.

“Has your group looked at any of the water levels or are you planning to do any work south of Inyokern down by Robbers Roost?” he asked. “An exploration well, or an aquifer and production test?”

Water Resource Manager Steve Johnson said the authority is still trying to identify appropriate locations for an aquifer performance test.

TAC Member Don Decker said the El Paso subbasin is “hydraulically isolated” from the main IWV groundwater basin because of elevation difference. He said whatever little recharge there is will not heavily impact the IWV basin.

“So you’ve actually done aquifer testing there?” asked Mead.

“No,” said Decker. But he said the authority is “fully aware” of the increases and decreases of water levels in that area of the basin.

He said state funds are available to drill test wells in the future, but that information won’t be available for the GSP.

Johnson described the authority as “out of time” to gather much more information for the plan, which is due to the state Department of Water Resources in less than five months.

“We never planned on doing this type of field work in developing the GSP,” said Johnson. He said there are plans and grant funding for more exploratory efforts that will take place next year.

Decker said the IWV basin is already one of the most “extensively studied basins on the face of the earth. [Studies] have been going on for almost 100 years.

“The impetus for much of it has been the presence of the Navy and the issue of groundwater supply. As far as the El Paso basin, the evidence there is that the recharge is probably low.”

He said while levels rise somewhat during spring flows, there’s no overall permanent increase.

“It’s not that we’re ignoring it,” said Decker. “It’s that we’ve said over and over, ‘time is short.’ The plan as it stands is very well grounded.”

“But you’re already making decisions on allotments for the future,” said Mead.

But Johnson said the authority will work with “the best information we have right now without going out and doing more field work.”

“Is your thought that maybe this forced allocation concept is being pushed too hard right now? And we maybe need to collect some additional data to reevaluate this in five years?” TAC Member Eddy Teasedale asked Mead.

“I believe without that information, I don’t know how we can set allocations,” said Mead.

Johnson said the plan has always been to continually reevaluate and adapt the GSP. He also supported a test well in that area and said he would like to be involved.

The IWVGA was still meeting as the News Review went to press. Video recordings can be accessed at iwvga.org/iwvga-meetings or through the city’s YouTube channel.

Story First Published: 2019-09-20