To the Editor: Comments on Searles lawsuit

Searles Valley Minerals filed a lawsuit against the IWV Groundwater Authority this week to avoid its reasonable share of the necessary costs to balance the water supply in the IWV Groundwater Basin. In sum, Searles is asking the court to grant their commercial industrial use a priority over and above all other water users in the basin, including the domestic use of all the residents of Ridgecrest community and the Navy.

At its core, Searles’ lawsuit is nothing more than a claim that its use of water for a commercial industrial purpose should be free of all costs and given a priority over and above all other uses in the basin — remarkably, even including the residents of Trona that use water for basic human needs such as health and safety.

The lawsuit stems from the requirements incorporated in state law in 2014 through the passage of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. That legislation requires local public agencies to adopt and implement a plan to manage their groundwater resources to reach sustainability (a balance of supply and consumption) by a target date. That law also provides that if those local agencies do not do so, the State may assume the task with the power to force its version of a solution on the Basin and on the persons who use its water.

The IWV basin has been designated by the state as being severely stressed with production in an amount approximately four times that of supply. Studies confirm this designation and show that if current unrestrained pumping continues, groundwater levels will decline in roughly 45 years to the point at which all basin wells will be negatively impacted to a significant degree with the vast majority of domestic wells running dry. In order to correct this problem while supporting economic growth, the IWVGA must rebalance groundwater production in the basin by importing water from outside the basin. State law requires that the costs for imported water must be absorbed by the basin water producers that need the import supply.

Searles’ lawsuit is nothing more than a deliberate attempt to continue their unregulated export of nearly one-third of the Basin’s water supply outside of the basin, while unacceptably avoiding any share of the required import costs for its commercial operations.

Searles has carelessly asserted that the IWVGA has ignored Searles and its water rights claims, but nothing could be further from the truth. The GA has been discussing potential cost sharing proposals with Searles for more than eighteen months. The city of Ridgecrest has even offered to provide recycled water to Searles in order to reduce Searles’ draw on the basin’s natural water supplies. Numerous meetings involving Searles, the GA staff, agricultural producers, and representatives of the city and the water district have occurred and Searles has even been afforded positions on both of the GA committees and its representative held the chairmanship position on the all-important Technical Advisory Committee. And yet, no proposal or suggestion has satisfied Searles, and, unfortunately, Searles has never proposed a solution itself.

The Groundwater Authority has a legal duty and mandate to protect the interests of all basin residents and water producers and it plans to faithfully fulfill that duty. As such, while the GA remains open to discussions with Searles, and any others, regarding their water production needs and level of cost contribution, the Groundwater Authority intends to vigorously and aggressively defend against this and any other lawsuit which seeks to sidestep a reasonable allocation of costs required to maintain the basin as a viable water source.

Mick Gleason, chair

IWV Groundwater Authority

Story First Published: 2020-10-09