TAC mulls over latest pumping limitations

TAC mulls over latest pumping limitationsBy BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

The latest iteration of proposed groundwater pumping limitations was discussed last week by the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority’s Technical Advisory Committee. As presented, the “sustainable yield allocations” eliminate virtually all agricultural pumping in the valley.

“The attached chart does not reflect a legal determination of anyone’s water rights, nor does it prohibit anyone from actually pumping groundwater,” said the report. “This chart merely reflects an analysis of California Water Law to determine the use priorities of the basin’s sustainable yield.”

Water Resource Manager Steve Johnson said that to ramp down annual pumping to below 7,650 acre-feet – the estimated yearly recharge – would be “devastating” for the basin. “There’s just not enough water to pump,” he said.

The report includes a request from the Navy, which has a “Federal Reserve Water Right that is superior to all other water rights in the basin,” for 6,530 acre-feet per year in order to sustain the Navy’s current and future mission. The allocation would leave only enough water for “de minimis” (less than two acre-feet per year) wells, Kern County and the city of Ridgecrest – not including IWV Water District customers.

But according to the report, the Navy pumps only about 1,450 acre-feet per year at its current rate. By distributing the roughly 5,000 acre-feet in annual “carry over” to other prioritized entities, the plan allows for annual pumping of 4,461 acre-feet to the IWVWD (compared to 6,507 current), 102 for the Inyokern Community Services District, 300 for small mutuals and 217 for Trona.

The report references Searles Valley Minerals – which received no allocation other than 2,413 acre-feet per year of “augment supply,” which would be attached to a hefty price tag – and its claim that its water rights supersede the Navy’s. But “given the Navy’s sovereign immunity, the GA lacks the authority to conclusively determine the merits of that dispute.”

The augmented supply would presumably come from imported water, but the GA has yet to determine if importing is an economically feasible option.

TAC Vice Chair Eddy Teasdale suggested that the authority complete further investigation of the southeastern El Paso subbasin where “we see water levels increasing in certain areas … before we start throwing entities out of the basin.”

“There does seem to be some potential out there based on what we see in water levels,” said TAC member Tim Parker, who suggested that the issue be included in the GSP section related to data gaps.

At a prior meeting, TAC member Don Decker said that understanding of the El Paso subbasin was “more than adequate for the purposes of the GSP.” But multiple stakeholders have expressed the need to gather as much additional information as possible.

Water limitations and other sections of the GA’s Groundwater Sustainability Plan will continue to be discussed in the coming months before the plan is due in January. Draft sections of the GSP are available at iwvga.org/gsp-chapters, but there’s no firm date for the plan’s completion.

Johnson said “it’s been frustrating” that he wasn’t able to deliver GSP sections to the public as soon as he’d promised. “Trying to run these things through the staff team and legal counsel in order to release it to you folks has been difficult,” he said.

He reiterated that the latest pumping limitations were “not Groundwater Authority-approved,” but are just possible options.”

The GA will meet Oct. 17 at 10 a.m. at City Hall. Agenda information will be available at iwvga.org/ivwga-meetings prior to the meeting.

Story First Published: 2019-10-11