Wastewater fund tops $27 million, plan still not public

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Wastewater  fund tops  $27 million,  plan still  not publicNow that a tentative agreement between Ridgecrest and the Department of the Navy has reportedly been delivered to the Pentagon for review and approval, a citizen is asking for a copy of that plan.

“We started negotiations back in 2012. It’s been seven long years. There is nothing that can be done locally from this point on,” Stan Rajtora said during public comment.

So … where’s the plan?

He met this week with the News Review to discuss the history of the city’s partnership with China Lake.

The wastewater treatment facility, currently operated by the city on Navy land, was built in the 1950s and upgraded to some degree when the city took it over in the 1970s.

In the 1990s the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board warned local users, who were nearing 75-percent capacity of the plant at the time, that they needed to come up with a plan for reducing use or increasing capacity.

With recent water restrictions — driven by state mandates, implemented in part by the Indian Wells Valley Water District — “Our capacity dropped to the point we were no longer on Lahontan’s radar,” said Rajtora.

But with the latest design proposal, Rajtora said, some factors were overlooked.

Chief among those is the fact that we have not adopted a plan for tertiary water treatment — which extends the life of the aquifer by relying on lower-quality water. Treated water can be used for some kinds of irrigation, or even reinjected into the water table.

The previous wastewater agreement, according to Rajtora, stated that the Navy could use up to 750 acre feet of effluent per year to water the China Lake Golf Course. The Navy has an allotment for seepage of up to 800 acre feet per year to support the tui chubs that have been planted at the China Lake evaporation ponds by the U.S. Department of Fish and Game.

“Between those two allowances, they are legally entitled to more than 1,500 acre feet. When you consider that we have only 2,500 acre feet of effluent, that means they are getting 60 percent of it, while generating only 30 percent.”

He said that he is also concerned that the Navy’s financial contribution is only around 14-15 percent – which is about half the share of the cost.

“So, what’s in the new plan? As of two months ago, I asked each of our council members if they had a copy of the agreement, and if they had read it. Each of them said no.”

Between the time allocated for the Navy to review the agreement, appraise the land, approve a design, get a loan and start construction, Rajtora said, it will be 2023-24 before the project is completed.

“Meanwhile, we have been paying for the services of the new plant since 2013. [City Manager Ron Strand] announced that we have a $27-million reserve in the wastewater fund, but there are people who have been contributing all this time who may never see any benefit.”

Rajtora said he filed a public records request on July 22 for communication relating to the wastewater facility, but still has not received the documentation (see related letter to the editor: http://www.news-ridgecrest.com/news/story.pl?id=0000010480).

“I’m hoping to get some insight into what’s going on. It may be nothing – the truth is no one knows.”

The wastewater fund contributes about a third of the salary for at least three employees in city administration. “But we have not had a technical review since 2015. The only work done has been legal or administrative. So we’ve spent all of this money, but we have nothing to show for it.

“I think the public has a right to know what the city is doing.”

Pictured: Frequent wastewater commentator Stan Rajtora at last week’s Ridgecrest City Council meeting. — Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2019-09-13