More GA fees coming soon

Locals question fairness of fees with hundreds of wells still unaccounted for

More GA fees coming soonBy BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

The Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority discussed a rough timeline for metering wells and establishing additional groundwater fees during its standing meeting earlier this month. But as the reality of more pumping fees draws nearer, locals question the equitability of charging for water use when all pumpers may not be accounted for.

“I think that’s a question you have to address,” said Judie Decker when asking if the GA would be able to account for all of the pumpers in the valley. Decker is a valley resident, but also a representative on the GA’s Policy Advisory Committee.

The GA submitted its Groundwater Sustainability Plan last month and is now moving to implement new groundwater pumping fees to pay for planned projects. The fees will have to be compliant with Proposition 218, known as the “Right to Vote on Taxes,” so the GA intends to have a report ready later this month with hopes to adopt fees in May.

The GA is processing information on current pumping to get a better understanding of how to allocate groundwater to residential users, industrial users, the U.S. Navy, agriculture and other interests. A self-reporting groundwater extraction questionnaire was due March 1. According to the GA’s Acting General Manager Don Zdeba, the board’s Water Resources Manager Steve Johnson of Stetson Engineers received some 25 reports with a few suspected outstanding snail-mail submissions.

Multiple outreach efforts have also been made to get all pumpers in the valley to register their wells. Zdeba said since the latest registration ordinance was passed, the GA received 94 more well registrations bringing the totals to 115 de minimis (pumpers who use less than two acre-feet per year for residential use) wells and 107 non-de minimis wells.

“If you’re going to have fees associated with pumping, you need to get all the data you can get your hands on,” said Johnson.

The GSP states there are as many as 546 wells in the Kern County portion of the IWV groundwater basin. But other estimates suggest there are closer to 1,000 active wells basin wide.

“How do you know all of the non-de minimis users received this questionnaire?” said Decker. She pointed out that there are penalties for customers who fail to pay their utility bills and asked how the GA would handle that.

“We don’t have the answers right now,” said GA Chair Mick Gleason, Kern County 1st District Supervisor. “That’s the straight and skinny of it.”

The GA is authorized to take legal action against groundwater pumpers in the basin who fail to comply with the Authority’s ordinances, including “impact[ing] that party’s legal ability to access the basin groundwater.” But boardmembers have not given a firm response on what that legal action may actually look like.

The public can also expect an updated “sustainable yield” report from the GA in the near future. Johnson said the board has a “pretty good idea” of the current recharge of 7,650 acre-feet per year and how the board will divvy up groundwater allocations. The new report will include the latest data collected from the questionnaire after it’s been evaluated from both engineering and legal standpoints.

In regards to the timelines of allocation and fee projects, Gleason said the board needed to continue to act quickly.

“There are a lot of famers out there that need to make business decisions and time is money,” he said.

According to the last allocation report – agricultural users would have access to a fixed “transient pool” of water which would last them for a few years, or only a few months for some outfits. As a result, the GA has received multiple threats of litigation for its allocation practices.

For more on the Groundwater Authority, visit iwvga.gov.

The board’s next meeting will be Thursday, March 19 at City Hall.

Meetings generally start at 10 or 11 a.m. Watch iwvga.org/ivwga-meetings for an agenda.

Pictured: Kern County 1st District Supervisor Mick Gleason, flanked by IWVGA reps Ron Kicinski and Scott Hayman, addresses the groundwater authority at the February meeting. — Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2020-03-06