GA needs ‘serious discussion about finances’

Water district rep questions water importation, financial future of GA

GA needs ‘serious discussion about finances’By BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

The Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority met Thursday to discuss budget options and address its more than $1-million deficit. While details were not available at press time, members of the IWV Water District – a GA member agency – discussed the topic during a meeting two days earlier.

“Money is obviously the most serious thing we’re dealing with now,” said IWVWD Director, and GA Representative, Ron Kicinski. He said the authority is looking at options to finish financing the Groundwater Sustainability Plan, due January 2020, but the authority would need to have a “serious discussion about finances” for when the GSP is complete.

The authority is currently funded in part by a groundwater pumping fee for which the Navy has a federal exemption. Recent pumping scenarios proposed by the authority demonstrate a phase-out of agricultural pumping, which would leave China Lake and the water district as the largest remaining pumpers in the valley.

“Who is going to be left standing to pay the bill?” said Kicinski. “It looks like they’re going to be depending on the water district to pay for just about everything.”

Another large pumper considered in the latest scenario is Searles Valley Minerals, which would be expected to pay for an “augmented water supply,” presumably imported water.

According to Capitol Core Group, the authority’s water marketing firm, infrastructure for imported water through the Antelope Valley-East Kern Water Agency would cost some $175 million plus $15 million in annual maintenance – not including the cost of actual water.

“That project is something I’m against,” said Kicinski. “I don’t think it’s feasible. I don’t know how we can pay for it.”

Director David Saint-Amand mentioned that other California interests are likely to have more money bidding for the for the same water.

The authority will discuss putting Capitol Core Group’s services on hold while finances are sorted out.

But Kicinski also said that Water Resource Manager Steve Johnson and his firm Stetson Engineers have been tasked with work outside of the original GSP scope, which is also driving up costs.

“The board is going to have to make some tough decisions,” said Kicinski, adding that all engineering projects, economic analyses and other tasks should be placed on hold until the authority can pay for the GSP.

The authority recently discussed employing a full-time administrative staff to oversee operations. Since the IWVGA’s formation, administrative duties have rotated among Kern County, Ridgecrest and IWVWD staff.

Kicinski said he doubts that the authority will be able to fund an administrative staff, but others say the lack of cohesion is what landed the authority in its current financial state.

Director Stan Rajtora said the IWVGA hasn’t “had any financial planning over the last three years.

“One of the reasons the GSP is behind is because there hasn’t been enough dedicated management of that whole process,” said Rajtora.

“I actually feel sorry for Stetson not having the direction they should have been given. We need to have some management on the GA staff that’s dedicated to the GA.

“We pay [Don] Zdeba to be our general manager. The time he spends on the GA, he’s not working for our ratepayers. There’s going to be a conflict of interest between the water district and the GA coming up very soon.”

Rajtora also chided the authority for never establishing a finance committee – something he and the water district board before he was a member have long requested.

“The point is the leadership should have given us a finance committee two years ago,” said Rajtora.

“Woulda, shoulda, coulda,” responded Saint-Amand.

He added that everybody agrees the IWVGA needs a dedicated staff, but the plan needs to be in place and paid for before the authority can figure out how to fund its own staff.

Members of the public thanked the IWVWD for taking over some of the administration and finances of the IWVGA, but still advocated for a finance committee.

“I’d like to agree with Stan,” said Elaine Mead during public comment.

“Just because the decisions are in the past, doesn’t mean we can’t look at them.

“If you don’t look at them, you’re going to make the same mistakes again.”

For an update on the GA’s Thursday meeting, see future editions.

Story First Published: 2019-10-18