More fees, metering planned for GA

More fees, metering  planned for GABy BRIAN COSNER, News Review Staff Writer

The Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority will meet for the first time since sending the valley’s Groundwater Sustainability Plan to the state for approval. The Department of Water Resources will decide if the plan will sufficiently and equitably allow the Indian Wells Valley to move forward with reduced water use in order to correct our estimated overdraft of 15,000-20,000 acre-feet annually. If not, the state has the authority to move in and impose its own management actions.

While the official agenda for the Feb. 20 meeting hasn’t been released, two upcoming items were brought up at this month’s meeting of the IWV Water District’s board of directors – ordinances for another groundwater pumping fee and the metering of private wells.

The GA has only one current revenue stream – a pumping fee of $30 per acre-foot established in 2018 to pay for the plan’s development alone.

“What money do we use after Jan. 31?” asked IWVWD Director Stan Rajtora. “Where’s the money coming in to pay for imported water or frankly anything?”

By his rough calculations, the GA’s current pump fee would be necessary for a few more years just to pay for the plan. According to Tyrell Staheli, CFO for IWVWD and de facto finance manager to the GA, payment for the plan is projected to be complete in September this year. But he admitted that the plan doesn’t include more than $1 million in reimbursements to various participating agencies.

The GA received two separate $500,000 advances – one from Kern County and another from the water district – that the board is expected to pay back one way or another. The board is also expected to pay back some $210,000 to the city of Ridgecrest for legal counsel fees.

Judie Decker, a member of the public, also asked if the district has tracked all of the expenses it incurred as a result of performing staff work on the GA. IWVWD General Manager Don Zdeba said that those items were delineated in the district’s financial report, but that he didn’t know the total sum off the top of his head.

Legal Counsel Jim Worth added that the GA is still determining what it can consider as “development” vs. “implementation” costs in regard to what can be paid for using the current pumping fee.

IWVWD Director Ron Kicinski said the GA needs to prioritize an administrative budget, as well as the means to pay for it, as soon as possible. He also said he wants fees to be based on specific projects rather than just general costs.

In preparation for its proposed well-metering ordinance, the GA also announced that all non-de minimis groundwater extractors (pumpers who use more than two acre-feet annually) were required to complete a reporting questionnaire (iwvga.org/extraction-fee-documents) by March 1.

According to the announcement, failure to complete the questionnaire could deny pumpers access to groundwater based on the GSP’s proposed water allocations. The plan includes a finite “transient pool” for pumpers other than the Navy, water district, de minimis users, city of Ridgecrest, Kern County, Inyokern Community Services District and Trona domestic mutuals.

Without paying for an augmented water supply, the pool allows for only a few years’ worth of pumping for many agricultural and industrial users.

IWVGA meetings are the third Thursday of the month with open session beginnning at 11 a.m. at City Hall. For more information visit iwvga.org.

Story First Published: 2020-02-14