To the Editor: Our ‘secretive city’

The city of Ridgecrest and the Navy are currently negotiating a plan that will have longlasting effects on the future and economy of this valley. The city council has had closed- door sessions for years regarding a new Wastewater Treatment Facility, including the use of the wastewater it will generate. Why has the public has been kept in the dark regarding the city objectives?

It is not widely known that in the 1970s, as a significant number of people moved off the base, the city decided to retire its WWTF and transfer its wastewater treatment to the Navy facility. Subsequently, the city started planning for a new WWTF. However, the city’s history regarding the new WWTF and negotiating with the Navy is a tale of one disaster after another. Preliminary WWTF design efforts started last century. In 2013 the city increased the WWTF fee on our yearly property tax bills from $120 to $360 in anticipation of building a new facility. The new facility would be in operation today if thecity had stayed on schedule. Instead, the city has built a fund of tens of millions of dollars, there is no design or final plan, and not one shovel of dirt has been turned. Many people who have paid for the new facility will never receive service from it.

Part of the problem has been the never-ending, costly negotiations between the city and the Navy regarding locating the new WWTF on Navy-controlled BLM property. City negotiations with the Navy have never gone well for the city ratepayers. The cty has been providing treated wastewater to the Navy for free since the 1970s, and ratepayers have been subsidizing Navy sewage treatment as well.

Now the Navy is asking the city to pay rent in the form of treated wastewater for the land the new facility would occupy. The situation is even more bizarre considering that the city does not have to use the BLM/Navy property for the new WWTF. The city already owns property that could readily be used, and the extra cost of any form of payment to the Navy would be avoided altogether. Why haven’t details regarding the WWTF plans and negotiations been made public? Why have public requests for information been ignored?

Prior to 2014 when California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act was signed, the treated wastewater had little value. Now the wastewater is priceless. In response to SGMA, the Groundwater Sustainability Agency is demanding that the IWV Water District pay a fee for all water used in excess of its GSA allocation, called an augmentation fee.

The WD has clearly expressed its interest in all water available to mitigate its groundwater shortfall. It appears that the city has not taken this need into account in its dealings with the Navy. The local wastewater owned by the valley residents is the only water controlled by the local community. The WD desperately needs to use the wastewater to help control local water cost. The GSA has researched many alternate water supply options, and its plan includes importing water. However, the possibility of actually importing water is unknown.

One thing for certain is that the public’s bill for imported water will be very, very expensive if we are able to get it. Likewise, water subject to an augmentation fee will be expensive. SGMA cannot be ignored. The city’s plan regarding the WWTF, including its location and use of treated wastewater, needs to be based on thorough analysis considering the long-term costs and benefits. The city and WD must work together. Decisions should be transparent and must be in the public’s interest to preserve affordable water for the future. End the Secretive City!

Raymond Kelso

Story First Published: 2020-05-15