Guest Editorial

Guest Editorial********

Opinions stated in this editorial are those of one member of the Indian Wells Valley Water District (IWVWD or District) Board of Directors and are not necessarily that of the Board.

********

The IWVWD is facing two major challenges in the upcoming years, 1) new State water conservation laws and 2) the water sustainability requirements imposed by the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).

The new State laws, SB606 and AB1668, become effective July 2022. The laws, though not fully defined, are intended to limit the average residential per capita water use. The laws (and fines) are aimed at the water districts rather than the individual users, leaving the districts to enforce the intent of the new law. A majority of the local population already is complying with what I expect will be the final law, but there are also many users who will be impacted by the new law. Independent of what measures are implemented by the District to enforce the new law, per capita water usage will go down and water rates will go up in order to avoid losing revenue. Those people who have been considering xeriscaping their yard but have put it off for whatever reason would be well advised to reconsider their implementation timeline.

The local SGMA implementation is off on a shaky start with bad feelings and distrust being common. It is hopefully clear to everybody today we are in a state of groundwater overdraft, and local leadership has failed the public for many years in addressing this problem. That said, it is also important to remember we do not yet have an approved Groundwater Sustainability Plan, and we have time to solve the problem in a deliberate and thoughtful manner. We do need to make incremental progress. Generating law suits is not progress.

The action by the Groundwater Authority that has drawn the most anxiety is the Replenishment Fee (Fee). The primary objective of the Fee is to purchase State Water Project Table A entitlement. There are three major problems with the project. First, there is no Table A entitlement for sale. Second, the project is extremely expensive. Third, there is a financial tail on the project that includes building infrastructure to transport the water to our basin that will be even more expensive than the entitlement purchase. This project will severely impact many valley water users. The GA will collect a lot of money from the Fee, much of it from District rate payers. The District will resist attempts to use the public funds as a general-purpose slush fund.

The City and the County both voted for the Fee. The IWVWD voted against. The District was opposed to the high cost of the project, but was also frustrated by the inequitable allocation of cost sharing between water pumpers. We may be importing water some time in the future; but first, a number of things need to happen. 1) We need to have a good understanding of how much water is needed. 2) Table A entitlement needs to be available. 3) The total cost of the project needs to be clear and accepted by the public. 4) All alternative lower cost augmentation projects need to be investigated. The Fee distraction has kept the GA from focusing on alternative projects. That needs to change.

The District is in the process of performing two voluntary mutual water system consolidations. It will not make a major impact, but it will help a few people in need, and it will hurt no one. It is only one small step, but it is in the right direction.

There is one and only one guaranteed water source available for augmenting local water supplies, the City controlled wastewater. There is approximately twenty-five hundred acre-feet of wastewater generated by the wastewater ratepayers. That amount of water could play a major role in resolving our augmented water problem. The wastewater has to be recycled, which will not be free, but it is a reliable, renewable source that is available. The District reached out to the City several months ago to form a partnership to utilize the wastewater for the benefit of the City taxpayers. No progress has been made to date. The wastewater is now so tied up in legal issues it is not clear when the wastewater might benefit the valley. A solution has become another problem. It does not have to be this hard. The District remains committed to work with the City to put the wastewater to beneficial use.

The priority of the IWVWD is to supply affordable, high quality water to the District rate payers. The District Directors are committed to the health and financial welfare of the public. We are in the process of updating both our General Plan and our Urban Water Management Plan. I urge all members of the public to get involved. While acknowledging a much less than ideal venue to conduct meetings this last year, the district is investing in new video and audio equipment that should mitigate many existing communication problems. Director contact information is on the District website. Contact them; they work for you.

Stan Rajtora

Story First Published: 2021-01-22