Judge rules in GA’s favor, dismisses replenishment fee legal challenge

Judge rules in GA’s favor, dismisses replenishment fee legal challengeCarol Keefer General Manager, Indian wells valley ground water authority – This week, Judge Kirk H. Nakamura of Orange County Superior Court granted twin motions filed by the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority to dismiss two separate challenges filed by two of the largest pumpers of groundwater in the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Basin, Searles Valley Minerals, Inc., and Mojave Pistachios LLC. The actions were aimed at stopping the collection of a groundwater replenishment fee which was imposed last January to fund the cost of restoring groundwater to the Indian Wells Valley Basin, as required under California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. Additionally, the replenishment fee ensures that homes served by shallow wells will have a continued supply of water as the fee funds the costs to repair damages created by the severe Basin overdraft.

The State Department of Water Resources has determined that the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Basin is a “high priority” basin in a state of “critical overdraft.” Recent Basin modeling and hydrological reports show the Basin has been overdrafted for nearly six decades. These reports show that only 7,650 acre foot per year can be pumped from the Basin without endangering either the quality or quantity of pumped water. Yet, the Basin’s four largest pumpers (Indian Wells Valley Water District, Meadowbrook Dairy, Mojave Pistachio and the United States Navy) have each individually reported pumping needs, and/or historic pumping of roughly 28,000 acre feet per year or 9.128 billion gallons of water. If this pumping were to continue unabated, the Basin’s infrastructure will be unable to meet the Basin’s water demands in roughly 43 years.

The replenishment fee is intended to collect the funds necessary to repair basin overdraft damages and allow the Authority to obtain alternative water supplies to replace groundwater pumped in order to stop the damaging decline in groundwater levels. Shortly after its adoption, two of the four largest pumpers, Searles Valley Minerals Inc and Mojave Pistachios LLC refused to pay their portion of the fee and filed legal actions seeking to stop the Authority from collecting the fee so that they could continue to take water from the basin without paying any costs to repair the basin or obtain alternative supplies for their pumping.

By ruling in favor of the Authority, Judge Nakamura has allowed the Authority to continue the work of restoring the precious groundwater resources of the Basin. This decision means that the pumpers have no further ability to challenge the replenishment fee in the trial court.

In making this ruling the court cited to its earlier decision of May 25th 2021 that found that “there is no dispute the Basin has been in a state of critical overdraft for decades due to over-pumping.” The earlier decision also found:

The Groundwater Authority will continue to work to ensure that the replenishment fees are fully paid by all pumpers without interrupting domestic water service.

Story First Published: 2021-08-13