BY BRIAN COSNER
NEWS REVIEW CORRESPONDENT
The IWV Groundwater Authority(GA) approved to fund a community outreach push earlier this month. Policy Advisory Committee(PAC) Chair David Janiec announced that improving communications was identified as one of the GA’s primary needs following feedback from the state’s Department of Water Resources.
The GA approved spending $60,000 from multiple funding sources, including conservation efforts, shallow well outreach, and others. During the PAC report, Janiec said specifics include a publicly available project and budget schedule, summary statements of the Groundwater Sustainability Plans technical justification, fact sheets regarding the “overall purpose and objective of the GSP,” and an improved online and social media presence.
The PAC is comprised of appointed representatives from various commercial, community and residential interests throughout the community. Though currently, the committee is without a representative for both small and large agriculture.
“Communication is the key to getting people to understand what is happening to them,” said Judie Decker, who represents the East Kern County Resource Conservation District on the PAC. She specified the importance of simplified versions of technical reports reflecting the reality of our groundwater storage.
The GA has been formally involved with groundwater efforts going on seven years. Groundwater pumping in the valley exceeds the estimated recharge of the IWV basin, and the goal of the GSP is to ensure the valley has adequate groundwater resources to support pumping needs.
Community engagement has always been an obstacle for the GA. The multi-agency board, including members from City Council, the IWV Water District, Kern County and other elected bodies, has also struggled with its member agencies seeing eye to eye on issues. The IWV Water District is among other agencies that are involved in litigation against the GA for it’s stance on groundwater allocations and methods of acquiring funds.
Water District representative Stan Rajtora was the only member who voted “no” on the item.
“I support what the PAC is trying to do,” said Rajtora, “but I am not clear on the funding.” The GA is without a general fund, and only has a handful of restricted funds streams. Rajtora questioned the appropriateness of the funding sources used and the GA’s spending habits in general.
“We are spending millions of the taxpayer dollars and we are responsible to the public how we spend that money,” he said earlier in the meeting. Rajtora has frequently asked for more financial oversight of the GA, with the organization seeing increased administrative and legal costs as the years go on.
The rest of the board approved the item, citing the importance of community outreach. Inyo County John Vallejo mentioned that the “black hole of social media engagement” should be kept in mind when it comes to an online presence.
He said that social media would be a good tool for “putting out official information and directing people where they can get information. But not
engaging in the typical sense of back-and-forth comments.”
In addition to needing more PAC members, Water Resource Manager Steve Johnson pointed out that the Technical Advisory Committee was seriously lacking in membership as well. The committee now has only four voting members, less than half of it’s original numbers, with the recent resignation of former Eddie Teasdale and Tim Parker, representing agriculture and the Water District respectively.
For information on committees and the Groundwater Authority, visit iwvga.org.