State approves IWVGA groundwater plan

State approves IWVGA groundwater planBy Patricia Farris

News Review Staff Writer

Word came to Indian Wells Valley Water District Manager, Don Zdeba, last Thursday that the state had approved the Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP).

The plan was submitted to the State Department of Water Resources (DWR) in January 2020.

The DWR approved plans for the Los Posas Valley Basin in Ventura County and the Indian Wells Valley. The plans were approved with recommended corrective actions that the Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) will need to address in their next plan update due in January 2025. The GSAs will continue implementing their plans to achieve State Groundwater Management Agency’s (SGMA’s) goal of groundwater sustainability within 20 years.

This initiative that began in 2014 has been the most challenging, most divisive, and most controversial of anything that this valley has ever experienced.

The Indian Wells Valley Basin was reclassified in 2014 as “critical overdraft.” From the previous classification of “overdrafted.” The IWV Basin is one of 21 basins in California classified as in “critical overdraft.”

The Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority (IWVGA) was formed in 2015 to address sustainability (bring the water table into a sustainable balance).

Early on the GA hired Steve Johnson of Stetson Engineers as the Water Resources Manager to formulate the GSP for the state.

After a turbulent six years of developing models, gathering data and needed information to formulate the plan it was completed by the deadline of January 2020. The plan was fraught with numerous lawsuits and much controversy at the cost of millions of dollars.

Zdeba provided the following statement to the News Review, “There has been much anticipation awaiting DWR’s assessment of the Groundwater Sustainability Plan. The fact that DWR approved the plan is testament to the efforts of everyone involved including staff and Policy and Technical advisory committee members. In approving the plan, DWR recognized the plan complies with the requirements of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act and, if fully implemented, can achieve the goal of sustainability. However, they also recognize challenges remain as evidenced by the recommended actions outlined in the staff report. The Groundwater Authority and staff now have clear direction to focus on addressing those recommendations.

Kern County Supervisor, Phillip Peters, also responded to the state approval of the plan with the following statement, “The approval of the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) by the Department of Water Resources (DWR) comes as welcome news. Multiple local agencies, as well as several consulting firms, and members of the public, have collaborated diligently on this critical plan in an effort to comply with California’s 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). Substantial time and effort has been spent working with all interested parties to ensure the sustainability of the Indian Wells Valley’s groundwater resources in the most fair, scientific, and evidence-based manner possible. The approval of this GSP will allow our Valley’s water future to continue to be managed at the local level, in accordance with State regulations. The list of individuals to thank for their dedication to this massive undertaking are too many to list, but now the real work begins in moving forward with implementation, as we work on ensuring the security of water in the Indian Wells Valley for future generations.”

City Mayor Eric Bruen also expressed his views regarding the approval of the plan,“On Thursday January 13th, the Groundwater Sustainability Plan for the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Basin was approved by the California Department of Water Resources. This is an important step forward for solving the water challenges of our community. It is far from the final resolution as parties remain engaged in a water adjudication lawsuit to resolve the water table allocation amounts to local industries, municipalities, and government entities.

The approval of the plan serves as a strong endorsement of the sound strategies being deployed by the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority (IWVGA) to import water as part of a long-term sustainability goal for our community.”

“Stan Rjatora, who sits on the GA as a representative of the Indian Wells Valley Water District, spoke to the approval of the plan, “It is not real clear what criteria DWR used for GSP approval. However, we were approved, and that is good news. DWR has essentially given us three additional years to complete the GSP. It is now our job to get that done.”

The 45 page document from the DWR includes numerous recommended corrective actions that address shortcomings of the plan. They advised that the GA address these issues as soon as possible.

The GA’s recommended solution to bringing the basin into balance, is to import water. The challenges of water importation are availability and affordability, huge hurdles to overcome.

DWR said they were not going to allow us to rely on imported water without having a funding source. As of yet, a funding source has not been named.

The water district last year filed an adjudication lawsuit against everyone claiming rights to extract groundwater from the basin. The lawsuit continues to be controversial. 20,000 certified letters were mailed out on December 10, 2021 to all individual pumpers and landowners. The district maintains that the adjudication is the best way to determine water rights for everyone in the basin, including the Navy.

The district is hosting a public workshop at 6pm on January 26 in the City Council Chambers where the public may ask questions about the adjudication. Lawyers will be on hand to answer concerns.

The public is encouraged to attend this workshop. Additional informational meetings will be announced.

Laura Austin File Photo: Steve Johnson, Water Resources Manager.

Story First Published: 2022-01-21