Sustainability plan approved 4-1

Lone IWVGA dissenter says plan is ‘misleading to the public’

Sustainability plan approved 4-1By BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

“We have a GSP,” said Kern County 1st District Supervisor Mick Gleason last week after the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority approved a Groundwater Sustainability Plan for the valley.

The plan, which outlines measures to reduce groundwater use to a sustainable level, was approved 4-1 by the GA board with a “no” vote from Inyo County.

John Vallejo, representative for Inyo County, said that Inyo supports the concept of importing water but won’t support a plan that includes acquiring water from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Vallejo said that any such plan is “misleading to the public.”

“LADWP has clearly articulated in no uncertain terms that it will not wheel water and not sell water to the IWVGA – period,” said Vallejo. He added that any water-banking project with Los Angeles would not be a one-to-one transfer and the expense would make an arrangement with the Antelope Valley-East Kern Water Agency the more feasible arrangement of the two, although it would still cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

“We should not let ourselves be distracted by a hopeless project that does not provide for our collective future,” said Vallejo.

IWV Water District representative Ron Kicinski admitted that the plan still needs more work. He called the GSP just a “road map to be adapted, refined and improved,” but that the GA still needed to have something to submit to the state by the end of the month.

California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act requires all overdrafted basins to submit GSPs to the State Water Resources Control Board for approval.

“Once the plan is in, a lot more hard work is going to take place – like cost-benefit analyses and data modeling refinement,” said Kicinski.

Gleason, who returned to his role as GA chair with the new year, also said that the plan would be “flexible and adaptable.” He said the GA needs to establish water augmentation and administration fees to address still-unknown real costs and determine how to enforce GSP regulations, as well as ultimately become an independent agency.

Part of the plan includes prioritized water allocations depending on use. The plan will allow for the Navy and most residential users to continue pumping but allocates a limited, short-term amount of water to agricultural and industrial users, a limitation some argue is unconstitutional.

“By denying allocations to agricultural users, the plan would take fully vested overlying water rights and make them available for use by others without just compensation,” said Elizabeth Esposito of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, the law firm representing Mojave Pistachios and the Nugent Family Trust.

She said the plan’s fallowing program, for which the GA has allotted $9 million, was not sufficient to compensate for agricultural investments. According to Esposito, Mojave Pistachios alone has invested more than $25 million in local agricultural operations.

Esposito asked that allocations be given to all users, not just commercial users, in a manner that’s proportionate to use and investment.

She also said the plan didn’t take into account the “massive amount” of groundwater stored in the basin – estimated to be in excess of a million acre-feet – and that the “plan should be updated to reflect the best-available scientific information which demonstrates there is substantially more water available in the basin.”

While our basin has ample groundwater in storage, there is uncertainty regarding how much is potable. But stakeholders have urged the GA to dedicate more efforts to learn more about the basin’s current resources before pursuing importing outside water.

Chuck Griffin, a member of the public, stressed that the proposed allocations would affect growth and have serious economic consequences. Griffin said Searles Valley Minerals in Trona has already begun denying requests for new business due to the uncertainty of its future water allocation.

“Do you not want any more business? Are we trying to stop growth?” he asked. “Because that’s what I’m afraid is going to happen. Because I have to have growth in order to work. Without that, we don’t survive.”

Griffin also said the plan goes against SGMA’s intent regarding private water rights. “SGMA was designed to be a fair negotiation between all the users in this basin,” said Griffin. “Maybe we need to be working with the farmers in order to buy them out, but I don’t believe closing them down and running them out of business is right.”

Camille Anderson of Searles Valley Minerals said the plan is too broad and misses “critical details” like cost-benefit analyses, prioritization of projects or funding sources.

“The timetables are optimistic, the financial burdens are understated and the lack of concrete funding mechanisms is concerning.”

Member of the public Mike Neel totaled up the plan’s projected costs and suggested water would cost each valley resident close to $2,000 annually on average.

While Gleason and other boardmembers have denied Neel’s claims that the costs will be borne so heavily by residential users, the absence of clear revenue sources has been called into question.

“I know the plan is not perfect, but we don’t have time to make it perfect,” said Mallory Boyd, a member of the GA’s Technical Advisory Committee.

Boyd added that the built-in five-year review period is “probably not frequent enough” and that the GA should update the plan with regularity. He also suggested that more emphasis be placed on recycled water. “I know it’s expensive, but in the long term doing tertiary treatments will pay back in big dividends.”

The plan in its entirety is available to the public along with other information at iwvga.org. The GA is scheduled to finish gathering comments and submit the plan to the state by Jan. 31. The plan will take effect immediately, though it could be several years before the state officially weighs in.

Pictured: IWVGA Inyo County Representative John Vallejo produces documentation from Inyo County and surrounding areas opposing the “hopeless” pursuit of water from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. — Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2020-01-24