GSP comments taken up to Jan. 8

GSP comments taken up to Jan. 8By BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

The Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority is soliciting comments from the public before it submits its final Groundwater Sustainability Plan to the state later this month. The plan in its entirety is available at iwvga.org/gsp-chapters.

The state passed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act in 2014, requiring overdrafted California basins to create Groundwater Sustainability Agencies and draft plans to reduce groundwater pumping to sustainable levels.

By GA estimates, IWV pumpers are producing more than 25,000 acre-feet of water per year with an annual recharge of 7,650 acre-feet. While our basin has an estimated millions of acre-feet in storage, SGMA defines “sustainability” as zero decline in the water table, meaning valley residents are being required to bring combined pumping to less than 7,650 acre-feet annually by 2040.

The current plan proposes hundreds of millions of dollars worth of pumping mitigation and augmentation projects — not including administrative costs. The GA is still paying for the plan through its $30-per-acre-foot pumping fee, but may have to increase the fee to $75 to complete the plan. Afterwards more fees would be required to pay for actual projects.

The latest projections show enough water to support Navy operations, small private wells and most of the Indian Wells Valley Water District’s operations. Augmented water supply, such as imported water, would be required to fully meet IWVWD needs and allow industrial users like Searles Valley Minerals to continue operation.

A “rampdown” plan is in place which gives a limited, temporary supply for agricultural use. But some operations have only enough water to continue for a matter of months.

The GA gave a 2020 budget projection during its Dec. 19 meeting, but the presentation did not include revenue projections.

“There is no revenue being shown because there’s still some uncertainty as to what the pumping fee will be,” said Don Zdeba of the water district, acting general manager of the GA. “Until we get some clarity, anything I put on here wouldn’t be worth the paper it’s on in terms of revenue.”

The projected budget shows the GA finishing 2020 with a positive balance of about $80,000.

This balance includes estimated Severely Disadvantaged Community grant reimbursements, but does not take into account $500,000 owed to the water district, $500,000 owed to Kern County and $210,000 owed to the city of Ridgecrest.

These anticipated costs also do not include administrative costs. Staff will develop a separate “post-GSP” for administrative costs.

Bob Page, the GA’s San Bernardino County representative, pointed out that the pumping fees are supposed to fund GSP development as well as administrative costs – something the GA will need to take into account when it segregates the budgets.

As GA budgeting has grown more complicated, members of the public continue to urge the group to establish a standing finance committee.

“The public has been requesting this for the last three years,” said Sam Merk during public comment.

GA representatives from the water district and the Ridgecrest City Council have been directed by their respective agencies to advocate for a standing finance committee, but the GA has yet to form any such committee.

Zdeba said that the GA’s water marketing firm, Capitol Core Group, was honing in on $50 million in federal funds for infrastructure programs for defense communities like ours.

“Some of our imported water projects may very well fall under that,” said Policy Advisory Committee Chair David Janiec. “The message we got is that [Capitol Core] is already making contacts inside the Navy in order to approach that program with what we may propose. But we’ll be in competition obviously with everybody else in the country for a share of that $50 million.”

The GA also spoke briefly about outreach following its public workshop meeting in mid-December.

The meeting was “extremely disappointing in the interest of the public,” said Judie Decker during public comment. “You have your public hearing coming [in January]. I don’t know how you reach out, especially to the people of the younger generation, but this is an extremely critical meeting for them.”

Some 300 chairs were set up for last month’s public meeting at the Kerr McGee Center, but the fewer than 70 participants who showed up mostly regularly attend groundwater meetings.

GA Chair Ron Kicinski of the water district said that while the input was “pertinent and needed,” he too was disappointed by the turnout.

“It was a success by my definition,” said Kern County’s GA Representative Mick Gleason.

“But the public obviously was not interested enough to go to that.”

The GA now has close to 200 private wells registered, from both significant and “de minimis” (using less than two acre-feet per year for residential use) pumpers. While the GA saw a recent spike in well registrations, an estimated 1,000 private wells exist in the Indian Wells Valley.

Some registrants have complained that they are subjected to the groundwater pumping fee while those who haven’t registered their wells are paying nothing.

“I don’t know if there’s anything more we can do to get them to register,” said Kicinski. “The word is out there, and they understand.”

The GA has funded a billboard and multiple mailing campaigns in a push to encourage well registrations and notify the public of the local groundwater sustainability efforts.

According to legal counsel Jim Worth, the GA has the authority to fine residents or otherwise take legal action for failing to register a well.

Comments can be sent to apriln@iwvwd.com. For more details, see iwvga.org.

Story First Published: 2020-01-03