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Adjudication process meets court requirements

By Patricia Farris News Review Publisher– The Indian Wells Valley Water District (IWVWD) Board met for their regular meeting on January 9, 2023.

 The retirement of Water District Manager Don Zdeba was effective December 31, 2022. Consequently, a provision was needed to hire Zdeba as an interim general manager or as a retired annuitant. The Board was hopeful to have Don under contract by the end of this week.

   Stan Rajtora, Representative for the Water District on the Indian Wells Ground Water Authority Board, announced that his report this month would be his last one. He said, “The next GA meeting will be held on January 11th and Chuck Griffin will be taking my seat”

   Fellow board members related to Rajtora their appreciation for his thorough and responsible reporting of the GA board actions.

   Rajtora reported that regarding the Imported Water Project, the purchase of the 750-acre feet (AF) of water the GA continues to look for a loan agent. Rajtora said “I have not had an update for several months on how that is going. I can’t imagine they are not looking for that.”

The Pipeline Alignment study which is being paid for by the State grant is continuing. There were four related items before the Board at the meeting. One was the preferred alignment, the east, central and west alignment. Number two was a release of the Request for Proposal (RFP) for SEQA and NEPA documents. Number three was the RFP for the Right of Way Services. Number four was for the RFP for Design Services. It was noted that the Preferred Alignment was for the center alignment and primarily for managing the cost of the contract for the following on three efforts. Rajtora said, “I did vote for all four of these things. 

   Moving on to the Recycled Water project, the original Recycle Water study was scheduled to be released on December 2022. There were some delays, now they are expecting it to be released in January of 2023.”

He also reported that the 2022 budget was amended at the last meeting and that he noticed no controversial items being proposed as amended. “I did vote for that amendment. They mostly were just due to new government money coming in that they didn’t include in the budget but they were spending it so they had to make everything be an apples-for-apples comparison.”

The Capital Core Renewal was on the agenda. “I voted for the renewal. I believe Capital Core is doing a very good job in lobbying for the Ground Authority. The contract renewal for Regional Government Service was also on the agenda.  However, there was no not-to-exceed spending limits. I voted against it. Basically, it is a case of the group in charge of tracking spending having no limit put on their spending. I don’t think that’s appropriate.”

   The next item was the auditor’s report. A request for an increase for the fee was requested. That request was passed- no audit was actually presented but the general manager does expect that released soon.  “The thing we need to be watching is how they handle the Replenishment Fee. That was the thing that held it up and the reason for the increased cost. I’m kind of curious as to what they are going to do with the fact that we are providing the funding, under protest.”

The round 2 SGMA  grant project list was approved, “It did include a couple of inputs from us but I think our projects are very low on their priority list.”

The next topic was shallow well impact assistance. Two well owners have initiated applications for well impact funding. One of the applications has been completed. Stetson has completed the application review and is discussing it with the applicant. No information on that has been given to the GA board.

The next item discussed was the Policy Action Committee (PAC) who provided the proposed implementation phase, and modifications to the communication and engagement plan to the GA at the October meeting. Rajtora said “It is now up to the GA to accept and implement these modifications. There has been no action regarding that; it is going to be interesting to see. What is happening is the PAC included in their update that we have a real schedule that is tied to a real budget. It will be interesting to see how they act on that. This is one of the major Corrective Actions that was included in the Department of Water Resources (DWR) GSP review.”

   It was announced that the new financial system for the GA has been implemented. The GA’s general manager promised to provide an overview of the new financial system to the GA Board. It is supposed to have more capabilities than the old system. No details of exactly what these capabilities are or how they are going to be used have been provided to date.

   It was announced that the water year 2022 annual report is out. “I think most of the board is privy to that. It has been sent to the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), and I am assuming that they are reviewing it. Comments are due to Stetson by January 13.  “I believe the GA may be misinterpreting the requirements for the Annual Reports.  The main thing, in particular, I’ve been trying to follow up on is that they do not understand the change to groundwater in storage measurements pertaining to the entire aquifer. Right now, basically, about one-half of the aquifer is included in the measurement. It will be interesting to see if DWR is actually reviewing this annual report and what they have to say. I was not able to give a thorough review of the full report, but I have submitted my comments. I am assuming that someone from the water district will provide comments as well. 

   As you may recall there are 19 Corrective Actions that need to be addressed in the 2025 Groundwater Sustainable Plan (GSP) update. I have been trying to get a status on how these are coming with no success. We do know the Communication and Engagement Plan update has not been acted upon.

   “If you look at the back of the DWR review there is a summary that actually takes the 19 corrective actions and summarizes them into classes of actions and there are seven of those. That is what Stetson normally refers to. I am concerned that some of the 19 that were called out by the DWR review might just slip through the cracks if we don’t get Stetson to address these 19 that are called out in the body of the DWR review.”

   Rajtora was lauded by his fellow board members for his coverage of the GA.

   Jim Worth, legal counsel, reported on the Comprehensive Adjudication lawsuit. He stated that a number of hearings were held in December on the Adjudication and related matters and said that they were still waiting for the judicial council to appoint Judge Claston as the judge for the adjudication and presumably for all related cases. “It has not happened yet,” he said, “but that has not slowed down any decisions that he is willing to make at this time. The court continued the additional filing fee waiver of $1000 through February 28, 2023, which may be the last time that will be granted because it’s getting close to being an issue which will be discussed in a bit.

  “During the hearing on December 2nd, there was some discussion about potentially setting a phase one trial in the future but all partners agreed that until we were able to serve everybody and bring the case at issue, that was premature. It was also important that the case becomes an issue because that reenforces to the Navy that this is in fact a Comprehensive Adjudication which is what is required. In light of the fact that we are not at issue as of the date of December 2 a case management conference was set for March 17, 2023, at 1:30 pm.

   “Approximately a week later on December 9, there was a hearing that brought on a motion by the Water District asking to relieve these alternative methods to complete service.

    “This is literally coming close to the conclusion of the District’s efforts on serving everyone,” said Worth. “The certified billing concluded in June 2022. That’s when the Water District sent out the last mailers. The Comprehensive Adjudication was filed in June 2021. Virtually from the time the Water District filed, there was some action that was being taken to try to move this along. Out of the 19,000 plus mailers that the District received it was confirmed that there may not have been good service on about 300-400 of these. When that happens you are generally required to go physically and post a notice of the adjudication on the parcel. It turns out that most of these were vacant desert parcels. The District agreed they did not think this was a good way to go; so they went to court and the court agreed that in view of posting on the property, the District take three additional actions. We have already started targeting digital ads online starting January 5 and they will run for four consecutive weeks through February 2, 2023. The second action item is that they will be required to put in the paper-printed legal notices beginning January 23 and will be published for four consecutive weeks. The other thing is that we were to send out a mailer with the District’s billing, but because of the way the District bill, we will just insert a message on the bill. 

   “By February we should be able to tell the Court that we have done everything that we have been required to do.

    “For those people who are not familiar with the lawsuit, this is going to start much quicker than it did in 2022.” Worth explained, “When we filed the complaint we had to serve 90 pumpers that we knew of that were in the Basin. These pumpers were generally identified through GA records that had been presented to the GA. Of the 90, we served 87. For the final remaining three, we are in the process of doing publications similar to what we had to do for the 19,000 mailers. This will start in January. That will give us another four weeks. All other service requirements under the Comprehensive Adjudication have been completed. To date, there have been over 200 answers by large and small pumpers. This process has been going on for more than a year.”