City Council’s proposal to Water District provokes strong reaction

City Council’s proposal to Water District provokes strong reactionPat Farris, Publisher & Erin Higgins, The News Review Staff Writer

The monthly meeting of the Ridgecrest City Council on September 1 lasted more than six hours. It was taken up with two major issues: COVID mandates and a proposal by the City Council to request the Indian Wells Water District consider financing their replenishment fees

During public comment several members of the “We the People” movement approached the council requesting that they consider taking an official position in support of “We the People.” At last month’s meeting Lindsay Stevens, the leader of the movement, formally requested this be put on the agenda for September. The movement’s official position is that people should have the right to choose whether orå not to wear a mask or receive a vaccine.

Ron Strand, City Manager, responded that this was not within the jurisdiction of the city, other council members concurred. Stevens said, “You say you want to help both sides, but you ignore our side of this issue.” A spokeswoman for the group, Carla Merrill, likened the presence of a city council to walls built in ancient times to protect its citizens. Rather than walls, however, she stated, “We have people like you … unfortunately, the enemy is at the gate … Residents of Ridgecrest are being forced by unlawful mandates to wear masks and receive unproven vaccines against their conscience. Their children are being used as political pawns in the school system.”

While other speakers reiterated the inherent dangers to freedom and parental rights, the gist was generally to ask that their elected leaders stand with them.

A presentation on the water issue: A letter was presented by Keith Lemieux, the legal council for the city. The letter was written under direction of the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority’s Chairperson, Scott Hayman. The proposal in the letter was that the Water District consider financing replenishment fee costs so as to reduce the water rates for water district customers. He said, “This issue greatly affects the citizens of Ridgecrest.”

Angry feelings were expressed as various portions of the letter were brought out by Lemieux.

During public comment on this issue, Don Zdeba, General Manager of the Indian Wells Valley Water District (IWVWD), read a statement on behalf of the Board of Directors of the Water District in response to the city council’s letter regarding a request for the district to finance the replenishment fee. He said, “The water district board notes that this is not a ‘similar message,’ it is more of a direct attack on the water district, going so far as to blame the Basin’s state of ‘critical overdraft’ solely on the water district. This report is filled with misrepresentations, half-truths, and so much more. The most troubling aspect of the staff report is that it is an obvious attempt to sway the public and is noted as anything but accurate.”

In closing he said, “I think we all agree that there are serious issues facing the Indian Wells Valley, most notably with respect to water resources. The district board believes the focus needs to be on finding solutions to the issues we are facing.

We agree with the recent letter sent on July 16 by the Department of Water Resources (DWR) offering to facilitate the development of ‘collaborative solutions’ among ‘interested parties’ in the IWV Basin. The water district sent a letter in response and has agreed to participate in any DWR facilitating process. We encourage the city, who chairs the Groundwater Authority, to reach out to DWR, and accept their invitation and let the collaborative process begin.”

More in depth coverage of the discussions regarding these critical issues will be published in next week’s News Review.

Story First Published: 2021-09-03