Water confusion due in part to poor policies and communication

Guest Editorial

Water confusion due  in part to poor policies and communicationBy STAN RAJTORA, News Review Guest Columnist

There is much confusion and frustration regarding local water issues – due partly to poor IWV Groundwater Authority communications and due partly to poor Kern County land use policy. The upcoming election is critical to reduce both the confusion and the frustration.

Our groundwater basin has been mismanaged for more than 60 years. We have been in overdraft those many years. The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act requires us to make our basin sustainable so our grandchildren and their children will have affordable water. That will require local residents fund various mitigation projects. Clearly, the cost of water will go up.

The questions that need to be answered are: What projects need to be funded and when? How does each project contribute to sustainability? What will the projects cost? And lastly, who is going to pay for each project? In other words, we need a complete detailed plan. It is clear from SGMA law the cost of sustainability should be shared equitably by all water users. Who pays is important!

In spite of the fact COVID-19 has essentially shut down communications with the public, our GA has recently adopted two mitigation projects. The two projects are an imported water entitlement project, called the Replenishment Fee, and a fallowing project created to take farmland out of production. The GA has not explained how these projects specifically fit into an overall plan.

The imported water entitlement project is flawed as the total cost, project details, feasibility, and schedule are unknown. In addition, the quantity of water needed is unknown. But the fatal flaw is the project funding. The projected funding, $52 million, is from primarily two sources, the IWV Water District and Searles Valley Minerals. The cost is not equitably shared across the basin!

The high cost to the WD is due to the small amount of excess water allocated to it by the GA. The WD supplies water to 90 percent of the valley residents, but only receives 70 percent of the excess water. This inequitable allocation is why WD customers will have an average $300 a year water bill increase. This will hurt many WD ratepayers. The GA refuses to provide the criteria for the water allocation. Keep in mind this is only one of the fee increases the GA will impose in the coming years.

The fallowing project is critical to basin sustainability since farming water alone exceeds the assumed basin recharge. Unfortunately, the fallowing project was adopted without a funding source. It is now clear the GA intends to fund the fallowing program with funding specified for the water entitlement project. Money used to fund the fallowing program obviously will not be available to buy water entitlement. This questions the GA’s intent to actually purchase water entitlement.

The need to fallow the farmland is due to poor Kern County land use management over many, many years. The County approved land zoning for agriculture and issued ag well permits without considering water availability. The County is largely responsible for the huge farming impact on basin sustainability. I suspect SVM has serious doubts about funding a fallowing program much the same way WD ratepayers have doubts. The County must be held responsible to pay for their poor land use decisions.

The GA chairman, County Supervisor Mick Gleason, has suggested it is inappropriate for anyone to question the validity of the water importation fee and even implied there could be serious repercussions from the State. This is another attempt to lead by intimidation. Ridiculous, don’t let yourself be intimidated. Insist the GA provide more details, costs, and schedules in their project plans, improve communications, heed public input, and equitably allocate expenses.

An election is coming. Financing water projects is a key issue. I suggest voters elect city and WD officials who proactively support open discussion, equitable SGMA fees, and county accountability. Any alternative will perpetuate more confusion, frustration, and lead to endless litigation. A candidate who cannot look you in the eye and tell how he/she will vote is not worthy of your vote.

Story First Published: 2020-09-25