Council requests District to finance it’s Replenishment Fee

Council requests District to finance it’s Replenishment FeeIn last week’s edition of the News Review, the September 1st meeting of the City Council was partially reported on due to space constraints.

The main concern discussed during the six hour long meeting was Item 12 on the agenda. It reads, “Discussion of the Ridgecrest City Council to consider a request to the Indian Wells Valley Water District to finance it’s Replenishment Fee.” The staff report was written and presented by Keith Lemieux the City’s legal counsel under the direction of the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority’s (IWVGA) chairperson Councilman Scott Hayman. The letter basically is proposing that the IWVWD consider financing their replenishment fee costs. The amount of that loan being considered could be as much as $23 million. The purpose of the fee is to purchase Title A Entitlement because importing water is the potential solution according to the GA. City legal counsel says by purchasing the water now it is less expensive for our community in the long run as long as you can buy it now instead of waiting 5 to 15 years. The proposition before the city was a request to develop a consensus regarding the financing of the cost of the replenishment fee by the IWVWD. Lemieux said, “The first question is why is the city considering this issue at all? What’s the city’s interest here?” The City Council has expressed a strong interest in promoting economic development; the availability of water is obviously vital to the city’s mission and in order to economically grow and develop the city needs sufficient water supplies. The State Department of Water Resources has determined that the Basin here, which supplies all the water to the city is now in a state of critical overdraft. In response to this problem the Water District recently filed a legal complaint called a “comprehensive groundwater adjudication.” The District has asked the court to issue an order for a moratorium on new or increased appropriations from the Basin and then secondly a limitation on or a reduction in the extraction of water from the Basin. They are also asking the court to order the third request that there be no pumping beyond the 7650 acre feet safe yield. This request is a Preliminary Injunction meaning that they can file this at the start of litigation and it would be in effect from the start of the litigation through the end of it. If the judge then ultimately agrees it’s necessary it would be in affect forever and that motion could be filed tomorrow. If the District’s request is successful then there’s no new water production and as a consequences no growth until we can obtain imported water.

During public comment Don Zdeba, IWVWD Manager stated, “The City staff report states the City Council may wish to consider sending a similar message for presentation” at the water district’s September board meeting. 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 and half-truths…it is an obvious attempt to sway the public and is anything but accurate.

Also during public comment Ron Kicinski, former Water District Board president and District representative on the GA board delivered heated comments. He prefaced his remarks noting that he was speaking now as a member of the public he said. “Here are some of the terms that I wrote down after I read the report by Keith, misstatements, falsehoods, accusations, words like ambivalence, adversarial, intentional strategy all in an attempt to disparage the Water District, this is a wrong way to go guys”. He expresses that at least 95% of the water district customers are citizens that are represented by the City Council. He said that in his opinion the adversarial relationship was set up by Kern County. He believes the county is trying to direct away from the fact that they’re the ones that allowed commercial farming.

Hayman remarked that the Water District had not done their part in supporting the county when they were trying to limit water usage in the valley. Zdeba said “I think you’re being scripted by Phil Hall, the Water District sent three letters…” Scott interrupted with “I disagree with that”. Zdeba finished his response by saying, “Three letters went to the county when farming was coming into this community. We’ve sent them to the county and I can send them to you.” Hayman said “I would like to see them”.

Councilman Solomon raised the concern, in asking the Water District to finance their replenishment fee on one hand while looking at the adjudication on the other. “I have problems connecting the two.”

Lemiuex tried to explain, “The adjudication being filed by itself isn’t the problem, the problem is if they request an injunction then we do have a problem.”

Earlier in the discussion, Councilman Kyle Blades had offered to represent the Council at the next Water District meeting, to make the formal request for the financing of the fees.

It was the consensus of the Council to send Blades to the September 13 meeting of the Water District Board.

Editors note: It is important to clarify that Don Zdeba Water District Manager was not in any way affiliated with the “IWVWD managers and supervisors statement to the city legal counsel” published last week in The News Review.

Laura Austin photo: IWV Water District Manager Don Zdeba responds to the report.

Story First Published: 2021-09-10