City of Ridgecrest letter to Department of Water Resourses (DWR)
June 2, 2022, Paul Gosselin, Deputy Director Department of Water Resources.
We are the City Council of the City of Ridgecrest. We send this letter regarding the facilitation initiated by the Department of Water Resources (“DWR”) related to the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Basin (“Basin”). We are requesting that you suspend your “facilitation support services” (the “Facilitation”) because they are harming the efforts of the Indian Wells Groundwater Authority’s (“Authority”) to implement its DWR-approved and funded Groundwater Sustainability Plan (“GSP”).
The City Council believes that the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act’s (“SGMA”) schedule for achieving sustainability by 2040 is of the utmost importance to our Basin. The best available data indicates that without proper management 1 in 10 wells in our Basin will be substantially impacted by 2030 and this increases to 1 in 4 wells by 2040. Our Basin infrastructure will be unable to produce necessary groundwater by 2065. This poses a direct threat to the City and the other water users in the Basin.
The best science shows that we can only rely on approximately 7,650 acre feet of water per year from the Basin. The Navy has stated it requires nearly this entire amount for operation of the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake (“NAWS China Lake”). NAWS China Lake covers an area larger than Rhode Island, and its 1,100,000 acres represents 38% of the Navy’s landholdings worldwide and at 19,600 square miles the China Lake restricted airspace makes up 12% of California’s total airspace. The base, which consists of roughly $3 billion of installation infrastructure consisting of 2,132 buildings and facilities, 329 miles of paved roads, and 1,801 miles of unpaved roads, is critically important to national defense as it amounts to 85% of all Navy land holdings for weapons and armaments research, development, acquisition, testing and evaluation use. It is also critically important to the City as it is our largest employer. Simply put, without water there can be no base and without the base there is no City.
We were pleased when the Authority adopted a GSP to protect the Basin by purchasing rights to supplemental water and mitigating harm to shallow wells. This GSP was prepared through public engagement with the Authority’s Policy Advisory and Technical Advisory Committees, community members who donated hundreds of hours of their time to review the proposed plan, challenge its science and improve its policies. The plan they created, at considerable time and expanse, is the best option to protect our groundwater resources.
We were pleased that the DWR recognized this hard effort, approved the GSP, and then approved 7.6 million dollars to implement the importation project. We were encouraged to see our federal policy makers to beginning to take similar measures. After years of delay, we are finally moving forward. As it will take an estimated 10 years, at best, to build the needed water conveyance system we believe there is no time to waste to implement the plan.
We know that some large water producers seek to do just that. The GSP has become the subject of multiple lawsuits from large industrial (Searles Valley Minerals) and agricultural (Mojave Pistachios) pumpers whose motives do not align with the goals of the City or SGMA. Mojave Pistachios has claimed its rights to water are superior to the municipal needs in the Basin and that it intends to double its extractions in the coming years to 7,000 acre-feet per year — nearly the entire safe yield of the Basin. Searles Valley Minerals is using the Basin’s drinking water as part of its industrial process even though it has local alternatives and has rejected the City’s offer to use the City’s recycled water. (Searles continues to use the community of Trona as a shield claiming, without evidence, that the Authority intends to cut off water to that community. However, the GSP provides water to that community without a replenishment fee).
Both large pumpers are doing this without paying the replenishment fee adopted to mitigate the harm caused by their over pumping. Last year, the Superior Court in Orange County found that they have waived their legal right to challenge the replenishment fee. The Authority is now asking the Superior Court to enforce the fee on their over pumping. It will use the money collected from the fee to purchase imported water needed to protect the Basin.
The goal of these large pumpers is to delay the GSP so they can freely over pump for as long as possible. They claim there is a vast supply of water deep in the Basin but their position is not supported by the technical engineering work that has been reviewed and approved by the DWR. In fact, your department specifically discounted the “deep water” theory in its approval of the GSP noting that the theory is not supported by evidence. (State of California Department of Water Resources Sustainable Groundwater Management Program Groundwater Sustainability Plan Assessment Staff Report, dated January 13, 2022, p. 19, fn. 68.)
The Facilitation has become the newest basis for delay. It appears that Searles, Mojave Pistachios, and others intend to take at least a year, and probably more, creating a replacement GSP through the facilitation and then claim their replacement GSP was created under the direction of the DWR. They have indicated in court that they intend to present the product of the facilitation as a replacement plan and in the meantime, they will certainly resist all efforts to enforce the GSP by complaining to the court that a new plan is on the way.
The City and the Basin cannot afford this delay. If this scheme is successful, more than 200 wells and the Basin as a whole may be left severely damaged while these private companies just move on. The Navy will lose confidence that the Basin’s water future is secure and we may lose support for NAWS China Lake. Even if the GSP is implemented with due speed it will still be at least 10 years before we can begin to bring water into the Basin to mitigate the over pumping. If we wait while the project is delayed it is quite possible that the Basin will be harmed long before the fix arrives.
It is our understanding that the Authority has requested that the parties meet in private mediation to resolve the litigation. We further understand that the pumpers are unwilling to do so while your facilitation process is ongoing. Therefore, we ask that you suspend the public facilitation process and instead encourage the parties to pursue private mediation of their groundwater rights while the Authority moves forward implementing the GSP.
Sincerely, Eric A. Bruen, Mayor, Solomon P. Rajaratnm, Vice Mayor, L. Scott Hayman, Mayor Pro Tem, Kyle Blades, Council Member and Peggy Breeden, Council Member
DWR Response to City
On July 19, 2022 The City of Ridgecrest City Council Members RE: Response to Letter Regarding the Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) Implementation in the Indian Wells Valley Basin under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA)–
Dear Ridgecrest City Council Members:
Thank you for your June 2, 2022 letter regarding progress towards groundwater sustainability in the Indian Wells Valley Basin (Basin) and your concerns over facilitation services provided by the Department of Water Resources (Department) to the Indian Wells Valley Water District (IWVWD). I appreciated the opportunity to meet with you on June 17th and have had subsequent discussions with the City’s legal counsel and Kern County representatives, which gave me a greater understanding of your experiences implementing your GSP and the challenges to achieving groundwater sustainability in the Basin. The Department values the considerable efforts of the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority (IWVGA) towards achieving groundwater sustainability in the Basin by preparing and adopting the groundwater sustainability plan (GSP), which the Department subsequently approved. The Department acknowledges the ongoing challenges facing the communities in this Basin, including the ongoing litigation and disputes occurring among some parties in the Basin.
While the Department respects the request of the Ridgecrest City Council to halt facilitation support services it is providing to IWVWD, the Department believes the request comes from concerns based on misinformation regarding the purpose and role of facilitation, particularly that the facilitation is being used to develop another, replacement GSP for the Basin. This is patently false. The facilitation is not intended to perform a technical review of Basin conditions or to develop revisions or additions to the GSP or the projects. SGMA makes the IWVGA the exclusive agency responsible for GSP implementation in the Basin, and any revisions or amendments to the approved GSP can only be made by the IWVGA (see e.g., Water Code 10728.2, 10728.4). Furthermore, the development of a new GSP is not part of, nor would it be part of, the scope of work of the facilitation services task order unless directed by IWVGA. Additionally, statements have been made claiming a non-IWVGA technical advisory committee is being supported by facilitation services. Again, this is inaccurate.
To clarify the purpose and scope of the facilitation, I have attached the facilitation services task order and work plan. You may find additional information about the facilitation effort on the IWVWD website: DWR Facilitation | Indian Wells Valley Water District (iwvwd.com). Currently, neutral third-party facilitators are conducting a stakeholder assessment. The stakeholder assessment process was described at the public meeting on May 17th. I expect the assessment will take several months. The facilitation is not part of, nor does it constitute, any decision-making authority or process, but rather provides a structured engagement for diverse stakeholders to inform and advise decision-makers, namely the IWVGA if the IWVGA decides to participate. The facilitation is not intended to perform a technical review of Basin conditions or to develop revisions or additions to the GSP or the projects. I recognize your concerns regarding the effect that facilitation could have on pending litigation. However, I encourage the City of Ridgecrest to participate in the stakeholder assessment. Your perspectives will be very important.
It does appear that some stakeholders are holding self-directed meetings outside of the facilitation process for the purpose of advancing the comprehensive adjudication lawsuit. Again, the Department is not providing facilitation because of, or to resolve, the comprehensive adjudication or any other litigation.
I would like to briefly explain how the adjudication process relates to SGMA implementation. The Legislature enacted the comprehensive adjudication statutes to assist or improve SGMA implementation where groundwater rights disputes could not otherwise be resolved through local efforts. The Legislature directed courts to manage adjudications in a manner that minimizes interference with the timely implementation of the basin GSP, avoids redundancy and unnecessary costs in the development of technical information, and is consistent with the attainment of sustainable groundwater management within the timeframes established by SGMA. (Water Code 10737.2; see also Code of Civil Procedure 830(b)(4).) The Legislature expressly prohibited courts from issuing judgments that would substantially impair the ability of a GSA, the State Water Resources Control Board, or the Department to comply with SGMA and to achieve sustainable groundwater management. (Water Code 10737.8). In doing so, the court is required to consider the GSP approved for the basin. (Code of Civil Procedure 849(b).) The Legislature also provided a means for DWR to review and comment on any proposed or final judgment in a comprehensive adjudication in order to align that judgment with SGMA and GSP implementation if necessary. (Water Code 10737.4, 10737.6.) Thus, we expect that the court will rely on the technical information development in connection with the GSP, which DWR has already reviewed and approved. The facilitation does not involve second-guessing that technical information nor does the current facilitation involve this technical information.
We commend the efforts of the City and IWVGA to cooperatively implement the GSP for the Basin. As you explained, the challenges to implement the GSP remain significant. As included in the Department’s assessment of the approved GSP, work remains in the form of annual reports, five-year reviews, recommended corrective actions and implementation of projects and management actions. The Department offers a range of local assistance programs to advance GSP implementation. I am encouraged that the Basin is taking advantage of this assistance. For example, in May 2022, the Department awarded IWVGA a $7.6 million grant to advance the imported water supply project. As described in your letter, we recognize that the imported water supply project is necessary to the Plan but costly and complex. Please let me know if we can provide additional assistance regarding the grant agreement or the project including identifying other potential water sources.
Should you have any further questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to reach out to me directly at: .
Sincerely, Paul Gosselin
Deputy Director, Sustainable Groundwater Management