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GA moves forward with pipeline project for water importation.

By Patricia Farris News Review Publisher– At the forefront of the February 8th meeting of the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority, actions were discussed regarding the pipeline to bring imported water into the basin, and the newly drilled Heritage Village shallow well.

  It is important to keep in mind that purchasing the right to buy water does not assure delivery; there have been several years that water was unavailable. There are many areas in the State vying for water from the same source, which is Antelope Valley – East Kern Water Agency (AVEK).

  After the closed session, Legal Counsel Keith LeMieux reported on litigation that passed during the session by a vote of 4 – 0, with Chuck Griffin being absent. The Board approved a Joint Defense Agreement with the Navy for matters concerning the Groundwater Adjudication that both the Navy and the GA are party to. The Joint Defense Agreement is a way of keeping communications between parties confidential based on common-interest privilege. What that means is that the GA and the Navy have recognized that they have a common interest in the adjudication, and on that basis, they have joined in this agreement. LeMieux thanked the Navy for that and stated that he looks forward to working with the Navy on the adjudication.

   General Manager Carol Keefer stated that a draft letter was going to the Army Corps of Engineers to request that their Corps work with us through the Planning Assistance to States. “The staff requests that the Water Resources Development Act, which recently provides some authority to provide local assistance and direction language for assistance to the GA.” Michael McKinney from the Corps wants to extend planning assistance to provide additional planning activities for the interconnection agreement. “We have also included planning activities related to the Water Recycling Facility.” The idea here is so that the planning assistance to States would complete the interconnection project then begin work with the Water Recycling Plant. These planning activities were between 8 and 11 billion dollars for the interconnection project and 5.3 million dollars for the Water Recycling Plant. The planning activities are available for between 1 and 2 million dollars worth of staff time or assistance from the Corps. 

Board Member Griffin said, “It looks to me like they are going to do a cost analysis, look at everything to see if it is feasible. The Water District is very much on board, and I am on board with looking at every aspect of the project.  If I vote ‘Yes’ on this, it would not mean the District is agreeing with every aspect of every project, but we want to explore every option that we can.”  

The Water Resource Manager gave the 2022 Water Year Annual Report to the GA Board Members. The Board was asked to authorize the submission of this report. However, Board Member Griffin stated that the report needed to come earlier for Board Members to review the 88 pages. He made a motion that it be tabled. The motion passed with one opposing vote from Chairman Scott Hayman.

Other actions during the meeting: The Board authorized the awarding of a contract to Provost and Pritchard, a consulting group, for design services for the imported water pipelines using funds from the $7.6 million  Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) grant. The Board also authorized the awarding of a contract to Overland Pacific and Cutler, LLC for right-of-way and parcel acquisition for the imported water pipeline. Included in this resolution were the awarding of a contract to the Provost and Pritchard for the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

   Although it has been requested on many occasions by community members as to what the full cost of building the pipeline the infrastructure for the project, which would include the cost of the rights to purchase water, that has never been forthcoming from the GA. 

   During public comment, ratepayer Mike Neal called again regarding the massive costs of the proposed imported water pipeline by the GA. He reminded the GA that the spreadsheet that he had provided for them was now in its last version. He said, “I want to go and give this as the record to the public as far as what we have as potential household costs for the pipeline.” He noted that all the members had been vetted as much as possible through various agencies. The majority of the figures on the spreadsheet are based on the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) report of 2019, also said he had tried to communicate with one of the prominent TAC members regarding getting this almost 4-year-old report updated and was basically stonewalled.

   “At this point, I am requiring from the GA updated figures on the 2019 TAC figures for the cost of the pipeline. Otherwise, this is going to go out with an estimated inflation rate that can be put on the spreadsheet. I put on a reasonable amount. What I would like to do is highlight the potential cost if there is only a 1% loan rate. If the $120 million is the cost of the pipeline, the monthly cost per household is still going to be $92 per month. If the GA’s dream to get a grant does not materialize, it will be $122 per month. It could never go back to $54 per month as the reported cost of the 2019 report. So this gaslighting previously by the manager of the GA thing is going to be only $30; that is not even possible for the cost to be that low.

   “If the GA wants to respond to the public and issue a requirement today to the TAC to get their numbers updated or to get the staff to get these numbers updated, then they can be put in at any time by myself or others.

In the meantime, I am going to proceed with all possible means to get the spreadsheet out to the public so people can know. I would like to say that it’s really sad that this particular effort has not already been done by the GA and distributed widely and that the citizens have to go through all kinds of efforts to get this to happen. This shows that the GA is not trying. I am going to get the spreadsheet out, and you will have to answer to the public on the figure.”

   Chuck Griffin, who represents the Water District on the GA, also discussed concerns about the new well recently dug at the Heritage Village. He said, “This is an irrigation well at Heritage Village, and the GA should not be paying for an irrigation well inside the district boundaries, especially in the county. The county has a restriction in place of no irrigated front yards, and the water district fully supports that policy also. I have an issue, first of all, with replacing an irrigation well to water grass inside a community of homes while we are telling the rest of the community cut back on your water and don’t water your grass. There is no charge being assessed to this well or Replenishment Fee inside the district boundaries, so the ratepayers are paying a Replenishment Fee, but yet this well being used to irrigate grass will not be paying a Replenishment Fee. I have an issue there, also. If you want to talk about the well, it does not make much sense. I have a lot of experience with wells. If you drill a well according to the policy written in the GA book, there are certain requirements. That well should have been brushed and scrubbed. We have no information that that was done. The well was not camera-ed, we do not have anything camera-ed in this well to see if the perforations were rusted where there was build-up from rust or algae. So what we are doing is looking at a well casing that has perforations and if these perforations are plugged from the inside, or the outside, or if the fines have washed this away into the ground pack on the outside and it’s not allowing the chamber to fill up with water the drawdown would be very large because it is only sucking water that has mud inside that pipe, then when you turn the well on it starts to pump the water is going to go down to the bottom, because the pipe is all that has water in it and it is not allowing the water to flow from the outside into the pipe because the perforations are plugged. So it tells me when we look at a brand new well that was drilled in the same location that you put in a new well with new casings or with new perforations that are wide open, the water is coming in, you turn it on, and the drawdown is 2 or 3 feet, it tells me it’s not a water problem, it’s a well problem, and the casing was plugged or corroded. It was damaged and not allowing the water to come in them. If you expose the perforations on your casing, your well will go bad. I am correct in that, right?”

  Jeff Helsey, the representative from Stetson, responded, “The staff report does indicate that the water decline has increased over time, and we did not have any records on any maintenance that was done.” Griffin said, “If you look back at Heritage Village’s report in 1992, it states that the life expectancy of that well would be 30 years, and it would not rust because it was put in with PVC, but actually it was not, it was milled steel. It still made it 30 years, so we are requested to pay for a well that met its life expectancy so if we approve this, everybody that has a well that has reached 30 or 35 years they are going to say, ‘Hey, my well needs replaced.’ It’s setting a precedent, in my opinion, that does not need to be set.

   “This well (Heritage Village) did not go dry. There was still 168 feet of standing water level below the perforations. It is not a dry well issue. This water level dropped 18 feet in 30 years. The hospital went down 10 feet in 30 years, so it’s not a huge decline, I guarantee you. I would bet any amount of money that anywhere south of Pearsonville, you are not going to find a well with a drawdown of more than 2 feet or anywhere else in Southern California.  That is unheard of; the water is there; it’s not a problem with the water, it’s a problem with the well. Further”, Griffin said, “as a GA, why would we not say the first thing that needs to be done is to have the well camera-ed, this would give us a huge amount of information.”

   Steve Johnson, Water Resource Manager, said, “a decision was made with Garrison Wells to drill this new well with no expectation of reimbursement. They evaluated the situation and drilled a new well, then made the application. I don’t know how much weight this carries, but they aren’t making this decision thinking they are going to get reimbursement for the cost”.

   Helsey said the approval of $114,482.59 had been approved for reimbursement.” 

 During another public comment, Neal spoke regarding the Heritage Village Well issue; he referred to the GA’s Emergency Assistance Program. He said, “Let me just read to you your policy, your program. ‘It’s all under emergency assistance with shallow well mitigation. The emergency plan is to provide for people who do not have water to drink, bathe, and cook with. Not water to irrigate plants or parks.’ 

In fact, the Heritage Association stated that this was not a potable well. ‘The Emergency Assistance Program with shallow wells experiencing an emergency water supply situation with a well failure has occurred and no other potable water supply is available.’” Neal says, “What does that tell you? This is intended to apply to potable water supply wells. Twice the GA has stated that, essentially, the intent is for potable water supply wells. This does not qualify as a de minimis well. This well uses 17 acre-feet of water per year. De minimis wells use two acre-feet of water. They want you to approve this and let these people pump almost nine times that amount. The Replenishment Fee exemption is not acceptable.”

At this point, during the lengthy discussion, board member Philip Peters recommended that we table this discussion until the next meeting and look into it at a later date. The motion was carried. 

Don Decker, a member of the Policy Advisory Committee, said, “The fact is if you look at the wording in the existing documents, you will discover that the word homeowners appears at least twice and other words that imply homeownership by private individuals that are in the present form that you will fill out for compensation. I have an issue with this Board that I will give you; in the situation that we are in, where this Board and the community as a whole are looking at every way to save water and reduce water consumption, to approve an irrigation well that is really for the purpose of improving the private community is hard to believe that this board would actually approve such a thing.”

   Phil Hall, the deputy county council, stated, “Heritage Village is entitled to due process, which means we cannot be surprising them with information today and voting on something without giving them a chance to get that information and address it. If you have concerns, you cannot surprise them. We have to proceed with due process.”