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District hires Clean Energy Capitol to study pipeline cost

By Patricia Farris News Review Publisher–

At the May 15 Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority (GA) meeting during board comment, Chuck Griffin, who represents the Water District on the board, reported that the District had hired Clean Energy Capitol to do a study for imported water pipeline cost and to do a detailed cost of operations of the pipeline. “We received a draft copy, and I have a copy for each of you board members,” Griffin said. “If you guys would like to take a look at it the District will be presenting it at the District’s June board meeting. If any of the board members or GA staff has comments to make about this we would like to have those received before the end of the month so we can process that and look at the numbers. We used everything we could with Clean Energy Capitol. They are a very good company that went through and made assessments. That’s what they do. They build estimates for water districts and other entities that are doing projects. So I have that and will present each of you a copy after the meeting.”

At the request of chairman Phillip Peters, Mike McKinney of Capitol Core, a government relations firm that specializes in modern land use, commented, “We were able to take a reassessment of a question regarding the purchase of water from Little Lake Ranch. There is a well, and to review the pipeline alternative, the conveyance alternative that was a part of that would be needed in order to get that water here. This is not a new assessment. As you will see in your packet, there is a memorandum. The water purchase for Little Lake Ranch was looked at in 2019 as a potential water source; it is allegedly 2,400 acf of available water, which is less than the required 3,000 to 5,000 acf of the annual reported water requirement that is included in the Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP). There would be two possible conveyance methods: one would be to connect that water to the LADWP Aqueduct and carry that down to the Indian Wells Valley, and the other option would be to build a separate pipeline. That would come from Little Lake Ranch through the area and come down into the Indian Wells Valley (IWV). At the request of Chairman Peters, we involved Stetson Engineering and the attorneys to look at the various legal issues and what some of the hydrology would look like in this particular case. Again, this is sort of a re-account of this. What the hydrology Stetson Engineers found is that we already use some Rose Valley groundwater whenever it is received as groundwater underflow into the IWV, then any removal of the surface water, which is really percolated groundwater according to the council from Little Lake Ranch, would reduce some of the underflow from the Rose Valley to the IWV Basin. While that is not a proportionate reduction, it would have to be taken into account in a hydrology assessment.

“I’ll direct these questions to Stetson Engineering regarding that; there are some concerns that would require an Inyo County authority to do that. Basically, to get approval from the county, we believe that there are some political issues with regard to that, as well as some impact on the groundwater that is currently being utilized in the Rose Valley area. In addition, as we have stated, we have looked at and reported to the board many times the interconnection from the LADWP Aqueduct to bring imported water supplies to the IWV.

“The county of Inyo opposes this, and essentially, while they would be required to approve it, they have yet to approve any export of native water from the region. Little Lake Ranch probably violated that export ban. In addition, LADWP from 2019 to 2021 had three demands of the Groundwater Authority. Basically, we seek approval from Inyo County. Second, we establish a groundwater banking project. Third, any agreement that we discuss with them would include a three-to-one leave behind – meaning that we would have to purchase three times the water that is needed so that instead of 3,000 to 5,000-acre feet, it would be upwards of 15,000-acre feet in order to use the aqueduct, that would be the cost of the conveyance. From 2019 to 2021 we could not mitigate any concerns that Inyo County had with an interconnection with LADWP.

“The groundwater banking project is extremely expensive. Especially given the fact that the Basin does not percolate, it would require an injection well and a three-to-one leave-behind agreement. That would increase the overall open network management in debt service obligations of the inner connective project. Basically, what is going to happen at that particular point is the debt service, the amount of money to buy the extra water and to service the debt for the purchase of the water, would go to the ONM of the imported water project, which would be passed on to the ratepayers.

It is not something we can mitigate with a grant; there are no available grants for the purchase of water. In 2021 the Board decided to tell Capital Core to discontinue with LADWP based upon these findings.

In 2023, the board favored the interconnection with Antelope Valley Eastern Kern Water District (AVEK) primarily because the infrastructure cost while greater for AVEK for eligible for state and federal funding but to mitigate the impact of these costs, while conversely, the ONM cost increase associated with the LADWP interconnection and the purchase of water would adversely impact water ratepayers on a very prolonged basis, more than 30 years.  For those reasons, we have basically said that we believe that the purchase of water from Little Lake Ranch continues to be less than what is required to meet the sustainability requirement is insufficient to meet the projected growth with the US Naval Weapons Center China Lake as well as the region and if you were to do an independent pipeline not an AVEK interconnection that interconnection might not meet the established requirements of the GSP and the Department of Water Resources (DWR) would likely reject that.

There is discussion based upon questions from Chairman Peters regarding the Water District’s knowledge of this and knowledge of who was present. I will leave these to you and any questions regarding that. However, our findings remain as they were in 2021 and 2023: that the purchase of Water Rights from Little Lake Ranch is insufficient to meet the needs and, second of all, that construction of the pipeline is not feasible.”

Griffin stated, “First and foremost, I want to say that the rest of the members of this board serve on either a county or city, and you guys focus on many issues; you are not focused on one item. As a Water District board member and as the rest of the board, we are focused on water. It is our intent, which it has been for many years.

There has been a committee standing for more than 25 years, the Water Management Committee, that is to always look for new sources of water, different avenues that we could pursue to bring water into this Basin to reach sustainability. I find it very disheartening to read this report, which I feel personally is horse ****. What this report tells me is that our consultants and staff do not want to look outside the box and consider that there are other avenues of imported water other than a pipeline. In this report, the Water District had a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA), so I can’t say much. We have an NDA with Little Lake which I will tell everybody publicly. So we can’t go into full details, but I assure you that the 2400 acre feet you are talking about, the underflow, you guys are making assumptions that that’s what we are talking about. Nobody on this board except for, I believe, Chairman Peters and maybe Dr. Hayman have been on Little Lake property and reviewed any of this. I know that the hydrologist or Capital Core has not been on the property because we have an NDA with Little Lake Ranch, and they would have told us that. So, to make these assumptions of what we are going to do or what our plans are to bring water to this valley blows me away. Then to read in a report that there is 2400 acre feet, if that’s what we are even dealing with, available but that wouldn’t meet the need of this community when we are talking about building a pipeline with 3000 acre feet and losing 40% of that through the State Water Project. We aren’t even going to get that; it’s a benefit, anything we are looking at any avenue. If you guys come up with any plan that we can bring a little more water from somewhere else, it is worth looking at. The District will continue to look at Little Lake as an option; we will continue to do our research and work diligently to try to find a solution to help this Basin. But looking at this, it appears to me that if there were miraculously a river running through this valley, all of a sudden, they would say, “No, it’s not feasible.” So we’ve got to build a pipeline still, we’ve got to look at every option, we have to think outside the box.”

Chairman Peters said, “I’ll just say that number one, the only time the Water District has presented anything, it has been to oppose a pipeline. There has never been anything in support of that. If the pipeline was the only answer to save this community, it seems like the Water District would still oppose it, and the only thing we could do is to look into the information we’ve been given, and that’s exactly what we did. When we had Stetson Engineering review the information when we brought this proposal, we looked at it and shared the information that we received, and this was analyzed; they know more about this than I do. I’m not a hydrologist, and you’re not a hydrologist. This is the information that we have received but I don’t understand where you are saying this is incorrect. I don’t see what’s incorrect about this. So, that deals with the water from Rose Valley and how it already contributes to the water flow into the IWV Basin. I guess I’m trying to understand what about this is not factual.”

Director Griffin said, “If you continue to read in the report from Stetson Engineers, he says that more work is needed, more hydrologists and more studies need to be done to test the water. I can’t say a whole lot, but what I  can tell you is why you would come out with this in opposition without having a full report from the Water District or, when we get it completed, on which project we will do. We haven’t even presented, so when we get everything done, when we do our homework, and we have a completed project to bring to you, we’re going to say to you this is what our goal is and what we would like to do. So, can we look at it? But to say it’s not feasible, we’re not even talking about the same thing you guys are. That report does not relate to anything that we were talking about.”

Peters said, “I beg to differ because this is exactly what I was told, and I can only go on what I was told. We did look into it, and that is what was investigated. When has the Water District ever said that they have a project they are putting together based on this?”

Griffin responded, “We have not.”

Peters said, “So how can we do anything regarding that? We are going off the information that we have received. We looked at it because we want to consider every potential source.”

Griffin said, “That’s what I am asking this board is when the Water District gets a final report from our hydrologist, and we have everything, we can present it to you and then look at it, but to look at it now and say it’s not going to work, you don’t even know what our ideas are or what our thoughts are so when we can present them to you we would like to. As soon as it’s complete, we will present it. But to make assumptions, we can’t make an assumption right now because we don’t know all the facts. When we know the facts, we will present them.”

Peters said, “ A study based on what we presented concluded these facts and ended with more study may be needed. I don’t get the objection to that.”

Director Scott Hayman said, “I would like to say that this board, yes, we all have other jobs, you have other jobs, but since this board was founded, the job for the directors that sit on this board has been with the primary object to find and put together a sustainability plan for this valley. We have been laser-focused on that. Your comments are false. Secondly, regarding the AVEK project, could you elaborate on how that moves to 40%?”

Griffin responded, “Through a State Water project, what is the average amount of water that you get? You get about 60% on average; is that correct or incorrect?”

Peters asked Phill Hall, legal council, “Could you explain this one more time?”

Hall said, “I’ve been explaining this for ten years now in this room. It doesn’t seem to fit in. There are some that just do not want to understand it. There is a reliability factor in the State Waterboard. This reliability factor includes two things. One is the fact that some are wet years and some are not. Two, the system for table A was never built to produce the amount of water they put in table A. So when you’re buying Table A entitlement, you should consider Table A entitlement to be 62% of what you’re purchasing. It doesn’t mean you don’t get it every year; it’s a percentage telling you that if you buy 8,000, you should expect it to be delayed on average at 62%. That’s calculated when paying for the X of something when the retail price was Y. It’s always on sale for X; actually, X is the price. There is no 40% loss. There is a side issue to this which the Water District does not seem to want to focus on, it’s avoiding again with this data packet. This basin needs its aquifer for drought protection. There are dry years, and we cannot keep over-drafting the Basin to the point they do not have a drought resiliency supply. There will be years in the import project where you will get 100% of your water; there will be years where you get more than 100% of your water and bank it if you have a banking project. There will be years when you get zero. In those years, you need to be able to rely on your wells and your drought protection. But to sit there and just overdraft the Basin infinitum without recognizing that drought protection is bad public policy has not been adopted by this board. That very issue was in front of everybody when the GSP was adopted. I want to remind everybody that the GSP was adopted with the vote of the Water District. The Water District was the deciding vote. The GSP relies on imported water, primarily relies on water from Antelope Valley. The only time the Water District backed away was when the replenishment fee came out. There are discussions about the replenishment fee that you can watch at the Water District. When it became very clear that they became upset about the replenishment fee. One of the issues they were upset about was that diminimus pumpers were getting 800-acre feet at no extra charge. So yes, we need an import project. Yes there is a reliability factor to it. Yes, the Water District understood that. I’ll go further the Water District I’m aware of at least four reports I can call out right now claiming the Water District needs to import water. The Water District has bought farmland for the purpose of importing water, not recognizing that getting that water here is nearly impossible. It is not an adjudicated basin, so you can’t transfer the overlying right, but they have made that effort so far. One other thing I hear today is that the Water District’s position has its job to go out and find water supplies. That is really an interesting point to me because their attorney, in response to a staff report written to the city asking the Water District to finance its water needs. The water was purchased at a time when the water purchase would have been at a historically low-interest rate. The response to that at the public meeting of the Water District was to assert that Mr. Lemieux (the city’s legal counsel) put out a memo that stated that the Water District had the duty to find water supplies for itself. Jim Worth, the attorney for the Water District, expressly stated that it was not the Water District’s duty.

“Now, today, we are hearing that it is their duty. We do know that it’s the GSP’s duty. It’s this GA’s duty. It is this Authority that regulates groundwater. I want to add one other thing about the GSA. GSAs are all made up of those who have planning authority for the community. A Water District retails water; it’s the planning authority that determines what can be built and how it can be built, and water is a prerequisite for all development. So, who should really be in charge of the water supply? The planning authority or the retailers whose sole job is to make sure or not whether meters are functioning and people can turn their water on at the tap? You can’t have a planning agency, you can’t plan for development if you don’t have a water supply, so the water supply is really the function of the planning agency.”

Director Hayman said, “You made a comment, Mr Griffin, about if there is a river of water underneath this valley that we would find some way to circumvent that. That is absolutely false. We have made it very clear, other board members have stated it in public. If there are other sources of water that can be brought to the table we will definitely and openly look at that. That has been said time and time again, so to make these statements is not correct; you are off on another tangent. The other thing is, if you can bring us an increased amount of water at a cheaper price, or maybe not even cheaper because water is not cheap, we would gladly look at that, but you haven’t done it. You say when the Water District completes its task, your history, which is factually based on your pattern, has been developed over the years that this agency has been tasked with this job, has been put off, deterred, and not followed through. So when is a huge word to use when looking at when you are going to complete this. You are procrastinating again. We need a water project, imported water. Let’s do everything we can not to let that happen. To me, this is just another way of putting it off. You have had decades to be looking to the future of the water needs in this Basin and have failed.”

Director Griffin said, “I disagree in that the Water District has been very proactive. I don’t feel the District is stalling on that, we are working very hard to get everything completed so we can get a package so you guys can see what we are trying to do. We want to solve the problem. Mr Hall made some comments that we were working in opposition of importing water. We are not; that’s why we are doing projects. We are working in opposition to the pipeline currently because I do not feel a pipeline is the ultimate source for this valley.”

Hayman asked, “Why is it always a secret? Why can’t you bring the data you have and say this is what we got? Let’s work on this, we could work on it as a team, we have literally dozens of people that can assist and work towards a common goal.”

Griffin said, “The reason it’s a secret is the same reason that you guys don’t share information with us. As far as even the Navy model, it’s not sharable with us; I’ve brought that up several times. We can’t even view model runs on the Navy model because you guys won’t make it available to the District. So we are trying to do any project we can to look at alternative sources to import water into this Valley. It could be multiple sources, or it could be three or four sources; we are not asking for one source. Let me finish,” Griffin said to Hayman. “I didn’t interrupt you. It could be three or four projects working together to solve these problems to bring the basin into sustainability. We are not over-drafting, nor do we want to continue to overdraft this Basin. As Mr Hall said, that is not the goal of this District. The goal of this District is to come up with a solution that will bring the Basin into sustainability by 2040 as required by the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) through multiple projects, whatever they may be, to try to bring this Basin into affordable sustainability. But you guys know yourself this pipeline is going to be very costly, and I feel we can find other solutions locally. To say that my comments are false there is no documentation to say that it’s false. This report I’m telling you is not what we are working on and that is what has come out. That’s all I’m trying to clarify. What is written in this report is not what the Water District is solely working on, not in any way talking about the 2400 acre feet of underflow from Rose Valley. Not a consideration. We understand that and are not to impede that or reduce that amount of flow.”

Director John Vallejo said, “I want to make it absolutely clear that when I sit on this Board, I wear the hat that’s in the best interest of this valley and this Basin. That’s my duty and my obligation. I take that obligation seriously. Of course, I bring on behalf of Inyo County the county’s perspective and experience as my representation on this Board. It’s not an Inyo County hat that I wear; it’s an IWV hat that I wear here. We are looking out for the best interest of the communities that rely on the groundwater in this Basin. I understand that you are requesting before this Board reacts or responds to any Water District effort to identify imported water sources different than what we have to bring the Basin into sustainability. We have already identified and approved to move forward with what you want us to do with those proposals when those proposals are final and ready to go.

“I’m informed that, meanwhile, the Water District is trying to undermine the AVEK solution that we are already pursuing by contacting our state and local representatives and trying to get them to oppose the AVEK project that we have already moved forward with. So I don’t think you can have it both ways. If you try to undermine the AVEK project based on your other solutions that you are working on but not bringing those solutions forward in public it doesn’t sit well with me. I think it’s imperative that this Basin begin to do the actual work necessary to bring in water from a project that is tangible, practical, and possible, not just academic. From Inyo’s perspective and experience, trying to export water out of Inyo County into Indian Wells Valley will not work. It’s going to be impossible for a variety of reasons. It’s not feelings it’s for a variety of tangible, economic, environmental and other reasons we have to live with and deal with. Already being a community as relied upon as a resource colony for the city of Los Angeles, I want to make sure that’s clear.

“I feel it’s really important for us to look at all the alternatives, in the mean time we can not delay what we need to do. If we do put off the AVEK project for a number of years to explore other projects we are that much closer for this Basin to just failing completely and the state looking over and the Navy wondering if this is viable long term solution for their operation.”

Griffin “I appreciate your comments Mr Vallejo, and what I was saying I did not mean to say that any of you were not focused. You guys have several jobs, and you focus on lots of things. We are focused on water only, but I know that you  guys all work very diligently and are dedicated.”

Legal counsel Hall said, ‘The water that has to be diverted to the IWV through a conveyance system. It is not a question as to whether there is not a pipeline or there is a pipeline. It’s a question of what direction the pipeline goes and who it’s connected through. It’s not an independent pipeline. It’s attached to the LADWP’s Aqueduct, or it’s through AVEK. You have looked at the sources that Stetson Engineers as a possibility to bring it through Mojave, that is not technically feasible. So, there is a pipeline regardless. The question is, what is the conveyance system for that? If it is an independent pipeline out of Little Lake Ranch it is insufficient to meet the GSP requirements, if it is an LADWP there is not three votes in Inyo county to get that approved. We have a conveyance that is being discussed with AVEK that is fundable with grants. If you go through LADWP you are placing the responsibility of the cost of the water on the ratepayer.”

Director Vallejo mentioned probation takeover by the state recently at a Water District meeting. There was a discussion about what a takeover is looking like throughout the state. “I want to make it clear for everybody to understand what is being pontificated on is not what actually happened. Yes, there is an initial fee when you get thrown into probation, but that’s not going to be an all-end-all. They are not just going to charge $30 an acre-foot forever. That is the equivalent of the extraction fee on Basins that are pumping hundreds of thousands of acre-feet when we are pumping tens. That fee would allow them to do what they want to do. Then, you will have to figure out how you will provide for parks and landfill services, how you are going to provide basic water services when you do not have enough water in this Basin, and sustainable yield to flush the toilets. That’s what it really comes down to, not having the domestic needs. So anybody that thinks that to just let everything go into probation is like, Ha! Ha! We got one over on you. It’s only thirty bucks. That’s not what is happening. I want that to be very clear. There are people out there that are proposing that we just let everything go into probation it’s no big deal. No, that’s the beginning of the deal. We want to make sure people understand that. On a related point, SGMA is 2040 for sustainability, but when you have a basin whose modeling shows that by 2065, the deepest wells could provide the water needed, you cannot wait until 2040.”