District wants accountability from GA

District wants accountability from GABy Patricia Farris

News Review Publisher The thrust of the October 12 Indian Wells Valley Water District Board meeting related to the lack of transparency of the Groundwater Authority (GA). The question continually arose, “How are the Replenishment Fees being spent?”

According to Stan Rajtora, Board Member and the District’s Representative on the GA Board, he held a lengthy phone consultation about the finance report with Regional Government Services (RGS), the management group for the GA , Don Zdeba, Water District Manager, and a staff member from Kern County. “RGS did agree to put more detail into the reporting.

We need more detail because we want to know where the money is being spent. I guess we’re in a kinda wait and see.” said Rajtora. He also stated that the October 13 GA board packet came out with no finance report included. He brought up another finance report that related to the Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22) budget; the Joint Powers Agreement (JPA) requires the 2022 budget be adopted 60 days before the end of FY21 which is roughly the first week of November.

Rajtora related that the report would not be ready this month to be completed by the due date required by the JPA Agreement. “The FY20 ended December 31st the audit has been commissioned but we do not have an audit for the last fiscal year.” He said he would keep the board apprised.

The water year ended September 30, consequently, the Annual Report was due to the Department of Water Resources (DWR) on October 1. For the last two years, the report went out from the staff and Technical Advisory Committee. Neither the Political Advisory Committee nor the Board got to review it. Rajtora said, “I’m going to try to keep track of that and make sure that we get status inputs.”

During public comment, Judie Decker said she had grave concerns about the GA board adopting the Replenishment Fee under Prop 218 for the issue of water rights and additional water supply as in imported water. “Imported water is going to be extremely expensive,” she said. “My concern is that the GA is going to use the replenishment money for other things.”

During public comment, Mike Neel said, “From the beginning it was stated by Mick Gleason you know we don’t need a Finance Committee, we’ll just have an auditor. Every put off that you can come up with. A lot more people are paying attention now because they see the effect on their pocketbooks. They’re outraged that they can be taxed by an unelected body.”

IWV Director Chuck Cordell said, “We just sent another check for $575,000. We have no financial records whatsoever. I have no idea where they’re spending the money.” He stated, “We are spending the ratepayers money.” Recommending that before we write another check we need to request financial records because the money that we do give them belongs to the ratepayers. “I’m tired of putting up with all of this from that whole side of the valley. Nobody is taking responsibility.”

President Chuck Griffin expressed concern that the board may have counted money incorrectly. It was agreed that the district has paid $3.2 million of the ratepayers money. The concern was that the replenishment fee was not being spent appropriately and that issue must be followed up on.

Krieger & Stewart, the District’s consulting engineering firm, is collaborating with Stetson Engineers on a study to evaluate four alternative uses for recycled water that will be available from the City’s new water treatment facility. President Griffin said it was his belief that there was consensus of the Board that we work on the recycled water as a priority because that was the first “low hanging fruit.”

It is estimated that there is 2,000 acre feet of recycled water available once the plant is in full operation. Recovery and use of this water can offset a like amount of water needed from an imported source that would reduce the amount of the replenishment fee needed.

The district is currently developing an exploratory program for the El Paso Sub-Basin in the southwest. Although there is relatively little information regarding this area it may potentially hold a significant amount of water. This would be new water that is still within the Basin but could provide another source of high quality water. Hydrologist Tim Parker, a consultant for the Water District, has often stated, “We do not know how much water is up there.”

Director Chuck Cordell: “We have no idea where they’re spending the money ... before we write another check we need to request financial records because the money that we do give them belongs to the ratepayers.” — Laura Austin photo

Story First Published: 2021-10-15