IWVGA to consider financing augmented water rights

IWVGA to consider financing augmented water rightsBy BRIAN COSNER

News Review Correspondent

The IWV Groundwater Authority began collecting its groundwater replenishment fee this year in an effort to collect $50 million to purchase State Water Project rights. As of August, the GA has collected roughly $2.2 million and is now considering a financing solution to afford purchasing an augmented water supply.

The GA was already charging a $105-per-acre-foot extraction fee prior to approving the replenishment fee in late 2020 at $2,130 per acre-foot. The aim was to raise the above purchase price over the course of five years.

“But we’ve also been aware of the impacts to the community in trying to do that in short order,” said GA General Manager Carol Thomas-Keefer during the Authority’s October meeting.

The replenishment fee seemed to be the final straw for many, with several agencies paying under protest, refusing to pay, or pursuing legal action against the GA. In addition, the IWV Water District has since called for a groundwater basin adjudication.

Thomas-Keefer, who acts as general manager through a contract with Regional Government Services, said the GA began discussions with financial firm Wulff, Hansen & Co. to discuss the feasibility of financing the water rights purchase to “maybe spread the payments out over a longer period of time.”

Most GA boardmembers voiced support in at least pursuing the idea. But Water District representative Stan Rajtora opposed the action in light of other unresolved issues.

“The Water District went down this path maybe two months ago and basically came up with the answer that it just isn’t doable in the existing environment,” said Rajtora, referencing the “four of five lawsuits” against the GA and other challenges to the fee.

“We could spend a lot of time doing this and come up with the same answer.”

Inyo County representative John Vallejo voiced his support for the item, pressured the GA to settle on an actual project to get water to the valley beyond purchasing water rights, something that will likely cost hundreds of millions more in infrastructure alone.

“I suppose we’ll know if [financing is] feasible when we get the information back from the advisors,” said Vallejo. “But we’re really looking for the GA and staff to start moving along the actual project, because at the end of the day, that’s a crucial issue for Inyo County.”

Inyo County’s presence on the GA board represents a relatively small number of the county’s residents overlaying the IWV groundwater basin. And Inyo representatives have made clear in the past that they will not support any project that impedes their ability to provide water for the rest of their county.

The GA board voted 4-1 to move forward with firm, Rajtora opposing.

Among the meeting’s agenda items was also a “six-month check in” with RGS and it’s administrative services.

“The biggest thing I’d like to highlight is that we recognize the need to put into place better accounting software,” said Thomas-Keefer.

Rajtora and the rest of the Water District spoke at length earlier this month about the financial state of the GA (see previous edition).

“Our financial dealings in the last four years have been kind of haphazard,” said Rajtora. “At this point we don’t have our 2020 audit back, we don’t know where we are financially and we don’t have a budget in place for next year.”

He asked that RGS take more advantage of its financial and accounting staff to help get the GA’s finances in order.

The RGS contract is up for renewal in February of 2022. Thomas-Keefer suggested she bring an accounting proposal to the GA in December to give them the opportunity to renew services early and line up with the coming calendar year.

The GA meets the second Wednesday of the month with open session beginning 11 a.m. at City Hall. For more info visit iwvga.org.

Story First Published: 2021-10-22