GA continues water search, funding questioned

GA continues water search, funding questionedBy BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

The IWV Groundwater Authority updated the public this month that water marketing firm Capitol Core Group was continuing to assist the GA in purchasing water rights for bringing in imported water. Yet the Authority’s latest profit-and-loss statement indicates a $369,000 loss in it’s water replenishment fee – which was approved to do just that.

“If we were to get real lucky and there was a Table A water entitlement out there that we could purchase at a reasonable cost – there wouldn’t be any money to pay for it,” said IWV Water District representative Stan Rajtora during the GA’s July meeting.

Rajtora had several questions about the GA’s finances as the organization is going into an audit of it’s 2020 finances.

“We’re in the seventh month of this fiscal year and frankly I still don’t understand the financial reports,” he said.

The public has called for more financial accountability from the GA since it’s formation, with multiple member agencies including the Water District and the city of Ridgecrest asking for a standing finance committee. But that has yet to happen.

The GA has operated with a floating administrative staff of members from Kern County, Ridgecrest and the Water District over the years. Most recently, Regional Government Services has taken over administrative functions in an effort to have a consistent administrative staff independent of the member agencies.

Due to different aspects of accounting being handled by different agencies in the past, Carol Thomas-Keefer of RGS said they are still trying to collect all the information they need in preparation for the audit. “We’re making good progress in that direction,” she said.

Other questions included how much the GA was still paying water resources management firm Stetson Engineering for developing the Groundwater Sustainability Plan. The budget showed $60,000 planned for GSP development while more more than $438,000 spent on Stetson invoices.

“We’re trying to find the discrepancy between the 60,000 and the 438,000, but they have not been able to track all of that to be able to report on it yet,” said Thomas-Keefer.

“I’d like to see a good deal more discipline put into finance reporting,” said Rajtora. “I apologize for sounding like I’m beating Carol over the head...I think as an organization we need to be better about invoices and funds.”

To make matters more complicated, the GA is facing mounting legal costs as a result of multiple outstanding litigation items regarding groundwater fees and a recent request from the Water District for a basin adjudication.

In a recent letter to the GA, the state Department of Water Resources called for a more collaborative, solution-oriented approach.

“DWR encourages the litigating parties and other major interested stakeholders to instead focusg their efforts on developing a collaborative solution to the issues that are currently being litigated and which may soon lead to additional litigation,” said the letter. “DWR has the resources and stands ready to assist in such a collaborative process.”

The aim of the Sustainability Groundwater Management Act was to empower local authorities to address their groundwater availability issues. But if local agencies can’t accomplish that, DWR has made it clear that the state is authorized to take over and make decisions on our behalf.

See future editions for more information.

Story First Published: 2021-07-30