GA approves more projects, funding still unclear

GA approves more projects, funding still unclearBy BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

The IWV Groundwater Authority approved another of its water reclamation projects earlier this month. The surface percolation replenishment study will investigate how efficiently water infiltrates our soil and replenishes groundwater as well as what areas of the basin have the most beneficial infiltration rates.

While the project received universal praise from the board, the conversation once again turned toward the GA’s funding woes.

“My objection has nothing to do with the technical aspect of what’s going on,” said Stan Rajtora, GA boardmember representing the IWV Water District. “The program as stated is reasonable. The problem is – over the last three years we’ve gotten ahead of ourselves regarding funding. It’s obvious we’re spending money we don’t have.”

Critics has also suggested prioritizing projects that are more likely to identify potential new water sources, like digging production wells in unexplored or underutilized areas of the groundwater basin. The percolation project – like the recycled water project approved earlier this year – require financial sponsorship of some sort. To date, that sponsorship exists for neither project, and IWV residents are already noticing the increases to their water bills as a result of the GA’s groundwater replenishment fee.

Steve Johnson of Stetson Engineers – the firm hired as the GA’s water resource manager – said the preliminary technical information would be necessary to evaluate the cost effectiveness of the percolation project.

“I feel the project and the data that are going to be gleaned from it is going to be vital to other aspects and other directions we’re moving in, so I think it’s something that should be moved forward with,” said Scott Hayman, the city’s GA rep.

The board approved the project 4-1, Rajtora being the lone vote of opposition.

In a later meeting of the Ridgecrest City Council – Hayman said that both the Water District and Searles Valley Minerals were approached to sponsor alternative water projects and that neither had responded.

Hayman said that by supporting the project, “they would not be held to the replenishment fee and it would lower their costs substantially...We haven’t heard back from either one of those parties to firm up an agreement or take part in this.”

But both entities did respond, and both turned down involvement – in part due to dissatisfaction with recent GA actions.

Water District General Manager Don Zdeba said the district “remains interested” in being a participant of the recycled water program, but the district and GA have yet to come to agreeable terms.

In a December letter to the GA, the district cites a request that it would waive all claims against the GA as one reason for not participating.

“The district is unable to sign the waiver in light of present conditions, most notably, three active lawsuits challenging the district’s water rights and/or the [Groundwater Sustainability Plan]. The uncertainty of the lawsuits prevents the district from entering into any such waiver at this time.”

The district also said the program financials require further clarification, such as whether or not the project will go out to bid or how a consultant will be selected.

In addition to lawsuits with the Water District, the GA also held a special closed-session meeting on Wednesday, March 31 to discuss existing litigation with Searles as well as Mojave Pistachios. Details were not available and no reportable action was taken.

The next GA meeting is Wednesday, April 14, at 10 a.m.

Story First Published: 2021-04-02