Residents aim to ‘defeat water replenishment fee’

Residents aim to  ‘defeat water  replenishment fee’BRIAN COSNER, News Review Staff Writer

Indian Wells Valley residents are continuing to collect referendum signatures in an attempt to protest the recent groundwater replenishment fee approved by the IWV Groundwater Authority last month. Organizers have until Sept. 20 to collect the desired 2,000 signatures to overturn the fee and put it to a vote of the people.

The fee places a $2,130-per-acre-foot charge to pump groundwater in the IWV Basin, adding hundreds of dollars to residential water bills and hundreds of thousands of dollars in the cases of large agricultural and industrial users.

“I think it’s grossly unfair,” said Raymond Kelso, a spokesperson for a “defeat the replenishment fee” group. “A few farmers have been using most of the water and we’re all being saddled with the bill.”

While many are opposed to an agricultural presence in the IWV, the main criticism of the GA’s response to our apparent water shortage is that of a lack of information.

The replenishment fee’s massive impact on water costs doesn’t actually replenish any groundwater locally. It covers the $52 million price tag to an annual allocation of groundwater with the State Water Project, but it doesn’t cover the hundreds of millions of dollars more to transport water to our valley.

It also assumes partnerships with other agencies such as Los Angeles Department of Water and Power or Antelope Valley-East Kern Water Agency – when no such agreements have been secured.

The fee “doesn’t actually replenish any water in any reasonable way,” said Kelso.

Large users like Searles Valley Minerals have reported that they will be unable to continue operations with the additional water costs, which will threaten hundreds of local jobs. SVM and other critics have stressed that the GA should pursue other methods of augmenting the water supply other than solely committing to imported water.

Others point out that while the GA is confident in its groundwater models and estimated recharge of 7,650 acre-feet per year, the majority of pumping is concentrated in one area while some 60 percent of the basin remains unexplored.

“We need more information and more research,” said Kelso. “We need to look at importation, but we also need to look at everything else.”

While members of the IWV Water District and Ridgecrest City Council opposed the fee, Water District representative Ron Kiciniski was the only opposition when it came to the GA vote. Despite receiving some 5,000 letters from IWV property owners during the Prop 218 protest hearing, the GA approved the fee 4-1.

Water District Director Stan Rajtora, an advocate for overturning the fee, said that the replenishment fee needs to be subject to a “real vote.”

“It’s very difficult for a for a majority protest vote to be effective when it’s assumed that everyone is in favor unless they send a protest letter,” said Rajtora.

As of Wednesday, the referendum had some 700 signatures. Petitions are available at Cordell Construction, Napa Auto Parts, Coldwell Banker, Vaughn Realty and Pony Espresso, as well as Ace Hardware, Inyokern Market and Bernardino’s in Inyokern. See “Defeat Water Replenishment Fee Ridgecrest” for more.

According to organizers, the referendum requires signatures for at least 10 percent (roughly 2,000) of the affected parcels to be valid. See future editions for updates.

Story First Published: 2020-09-11