Johnson clarifies IWV Groundwater annual report

Says increasing groundwater storage was “mischaracterized”

By Brian Cosner

News Review Staff Writer

While certain areas of the basin are seeing rising groundwater levels, that may not be a sign of improving conditions Water Resource Manager Steve Johnson clarified at an IWV Groundwater Authority meeting earlier this month.

In April, the GA heard an annual staff report that had been submitted to the state in accordance with Sustainable Groundwater Management Act requirements. The report included changes in groundwater levels across various areas of the basin. While most areas continued to decline, the less-scrutinized “El Paso” region in the southwest of the basin saw apparent increases averaging some 3,000 acre-feet/year for the last five years, resulting in a lower-than-average basin decline.

Stakeholders have asked for further investigation of the El Paso region for years and a monitoring well project was approved for the area in February.

“There are some skeptics on the [IWV] Water District board of directors,” said GA representative Stan Rajtora during the May 12 meeting. “How much confidence do we have that the water storage in that area is going up?”

Johnson took the opportunity to qualify some of the information in the report and stressed that the “reports” were not to be treated as “assessments,” and that the information from the report was “not indicative of the long-term health or long-term trends of the basin.”

He added that the years of uncharacteristic storage increase in the El Paso region were likely due to above-average precipitation.

In a follow-up email correspondence, Johnson also clarified that the annual 8-inch decline (compared to the 1- to 2-foot decline in our groundwater table normally reported by the GA) was based on only 30 percent of the monitoring points the GA typically uses. “It’s based on very limited data and does not provide the whole picture,” he said.

In short – Johnson said the report doesn’t warrant a change in estimated annual recharge. Any new data from the El Paso region, and any other areas of the basin, will be incorporated in a follow-up assessment no more than 5 years from when the Groundwater Sustainability Plan was approved in early 2020.

The annual report was also the topic of public comment during the May meeting, specifically the fact that it was sent to the state’s Department of Water Resources prior to being heard and approved by the GA board or its committees.

“The annual report was not run through the Technical Advisory Committee,” said Don Decker, who serves as a TAC member, “an example of a failure really to properly utilize the available resources.”

Committee meetings were sidelined following the COVID-19 closures of spring 2020. Decker pushed for more committee involvement going forward.

“There’s a constant stream of reports submitted by TAC members that are not being posted,” said Decker. “The GA appears to be no closer to its’ [Plan of Action and Milestones] than it was a year ago, and we’re trying to navigate and negotiate our way along without necessary financial support.”

Rajtora has advocated for more committee involvement, as well as reopening meetings to physical attendance from the public.

“The city has opened up to the public for some time and even the Water District has opened up to the public,” said Rajtora. “I see no reason why we can’t have the public attend these meetings. I’d like to see the TAC and [Policy Advisory Committee] leadership so we can ask them questions. And we need to get back to looking at schedules – if we’re doing that, the annual report wouldn’t have ended up in the condition that it did.”

The GA’s next regularly-scheduled meeting is Wednesday, June 9, at City Hall. The agenda has not yet been made available, but last month the board announced it would continue its discussion on how to respond Searles Valley Minerals’ nonpayment of replenishment fees to the June meeting (see related press release, page 4). For meeting times, agendas and more information, visit iwvga.org.

Story First Published: 2021-05-28