Water District paying GA fee ‘under protest’

BY BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

The Indian Wells Valley Water District is continuing to pay the IWV Groundwater Authority’s “groundwater replenishment” fee – but is doing so under protest. According to Water District Director Stan Rajtora, who sits on the GA board, the Water District is also the only participant paying the fee.

The Water District was the only GA member agency that opposed the $2,130-per-acre-foot fee (up from a previous $30 pumping fee) when it was passed last year. The controversial fee spurred multiple legal claims, one of which came from the Water District which maintains its right to be reimbursed should its court challenge be approved.

The district as a whole pumps roughly 6,500 acre-feet of water per year. Some 2,000 of those acre-feet are subject to the replenishment fee, leaving the district with an annual $4 million bill – which trickles down to its customers. Millions of dollars more are going uncollected from agricultural and industrial pumpers who are also challenging the fee.

“People are starting to see the pumping fees on their water bills,” said Mike Neel during public comment. “Most of them probably weren’t aware of it, but now that it’s hitting their wallets they are.”

As far as future GA business, Rajtora said he was still trying to get a waiver placed on the agenda for the expected man camp of contractors coming to complete billions of dollars worth of earthquake repairs at NAWS China Lake.

“We don’t want the water district to be paying the replenishment fee for navy water,” said Rajtora. “It’s simple if you look at it like that.”

District General Manager Don Zdeba said the GA was waiting to develop a broader policy on waivers for short-term uses so that they weren’t addressing issues one at a time. For example, he mentioned the $11 million Inyokern Airport Runway project which will require some 30 acrefeet of water.

“Projects like this will come up going forward and the GA needs a policy for how these kinds of things are addressed,” said Zdeba.

The GA already waived the replenishment fee before for the Water District’s brackish water study.

“There is a precedent for a waiver … it went through fairly quickly without a lot of disagreement,” said Rajtora.

Details from the GA’s March 10 meeting were not available at press time. See future editions for more on groundwater.

Story First Published: 2021-03-12