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GA agrees to buy 750 acre of water for $6.4M

By Patricia Farris  News Review Publisher–

The Indian Wells Valley Ground Water Authority (GA) signed a non-binding “letter of intent” to buy the rights to 750 acre feet of State water for $6,396,000 from a State Water Project contractor in Kings County. The seller is Utica J.L.J. LLC which purchased the Jackson Ranch and is developing a truck stop and industrial center on 400 acres at Utica Avenue and Interstate 5 just south of Kettleman City.

The purchase is part of the GA’s plan to bring into balance what has been reported as an over-drafted groundwater basin. 

The GA General Manager, Carol Thomas-Keefer, signed the letter on July 29 and it was counter-signed by Utica J.L.J. Manager, John Lash, on Tuesday, August 2.

The terms of the letter required the GA to put up $2 million in earnest money within five days of the signing of the letter. If approved by the Groundwater Authority, Dudley Ridge Water District and the Department of Water Resources (DWR), this would be a permanent water sale rather than a one-time purchase. 

The cost per acre foot would be $8,528. 

It is not yet known how the water would make its way from the west side of the Central Valley, but at a special meeting of the GA on July 22 the Board okayed a contract with consulting firm Provost and Pritchard for $449,000 for preliminary work that would connect the pipeline that would connect to the Antelope Valley-East Kern Water District system in California City 50 miles north of the Indian Wells Valley using a $7.6 million grant from DWR.

Reportedly, Keith LeMieux, the GA’s Attorney, said,  “Given the environmental and other constraints on the State Water’s Project ability to deliver contractors’ full allotments, the reliability of the 750 acre feet of water brings it closer to 400 per year on average.”

This will only meet a portion of the needs required. According to the Todd Engineer’s report, the valley has only 7,650 acre feet of natural flow every year while a nearly 28,000 acre feet is  pumped out.

Those numbers explain the reason the GA has imposed a Replenishment Fee of $2,130 per acre foot to specific pumpers in the Basin for the next five years. The fee is expected to raise $50 million. The GA has designated this fee for the purchase and importation of water. The GA also imposed strict groundwater allocations that will take agriculture from its current 62% of the area’s total groundwater use down to 0% by 2040. This is the date that the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) action will be fully implemented.

DWR gave the GA’s Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) a seal of approval in January; there were still many requirements to be fulfilled.

 Two groundwater users filed lawsuits against the plan based on the replenishment fee. Mojave Pistachios and Searles Valley Minerals sued to stop the fee. In late May, an Orange County judge denied their request for injunction. “Neither entity has paid into the replenishment fee,” LeMieux said.

The Indian Wells Valley Water District (IWVWD) has filed a comprehensive adjudication suit of water rights in the Basin which could determine who has rights to the amount of groundwater they may receive.

In a comment made to the News Review by David St. Amanda, President of the IWVWD Board, said, “The question that nobody is asking, is who is going to be able to afford the water at this price? If they are anticipating that the Water District is going to buy the water, what effect is this going have on the rate payers?”

There is not a complete plan that includes all the costs that has been put together that would allow us to understand how all those costs will be allocated down to the rate players. It is the water rights, the water, the infrastructure and the operating and maintenance costs. After it is all built there are still a lot of costs associated with it.