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Groundwater Authority agrees on partial funding path

By Patricia Farris News Review Publisher–  At the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority board meeting on September 13, the GA board discussed the pros and cons of the two different potential options for the Imported Water Pipeline Project. One funding source, the Water Resource Project, would fund a larger percentage of the cost; however, the Environmental Infrastructure Project path would pay 75% of the imported pipeline project.

The Environmental Infrastructure Project path is quicker but leaves a $53 million dollar shortfall.

With input from all board members, the decision between the two funding sources ultimately came down to time. The board agreed that a fully funded pipeline would be nice, but there is also a cost associated with a longer timeline, and that cost outweighs the benefits.

The cost comes in multiple forms. The most immediately relevant form is that a longer timeline comes with changes in legislation, so the fully funded path might not even be fully funded by the time they need it.

A longer timeline comes at the cost of more unsustainable water use, which goes against the main purpose of the GA as a Groundwater Sustainability Agency.  The GA insists that the basin is in critical overdraft and has been for decades.

At the last Water District board meeting, members agreed that abstaining from the vote might be the way to go. They agreed that both funding paths have value, but a vote either way might indicate that the District supports this Water Importation Project.

Director Chuck Griffin

Chuck Griffin, the Water District’s representative on the GA Board, had stated at the GA board meeting that this is the toughest decision he has made personally. “I have to make sure that the District ratepayers are not carrying the burden.”

The Water District and the ratepayers have been the only major players paying the Replenishment fee.

Griffin wanted to be assured that the 25% of the Pipeline Project would not fall fully on the District.

Legal counsel for the GA Keith Lemieux and Phil Hall, legal counsel for the county, explained that they are looking at a per-parcel plan that is standard across the State with Water Management Agencies that would ensure that the District ratepayers would not be carrying the whole burden.

Lemieux made it clear that voting for a funding path did not indicate that the members supported the Pipeline Project. This vote would just direct staff to seek funding. Concerns about a pay plan would be ironed out later, he said.

Ultimately, all GA board members voted to direct staff to pursue the funding method with the Environment Infrastructure Project. They will pay for 75% of the construction of the project. This only covers the construction portion of the project.

Jeff Helsley of Stetson Engineers brought to the attention of the board that last year, two well owners reported that they were impacted. The GA subsequently approved assistance to the Stark Street well in RIdgecrest Hights for the amount of $31,821. He noted that the GA Sustainability Plan for the basin recognized that the groundwater in the basin would continue to decline. The board approved a program for shallow well mitigation to address the impacts of shallow domestic wells.

Helsley said in the last two weeks, we have had two reports of wells that have been impacted. Mr. Beyerly contacted April of the GA to report that he had a well that had gone dry. He wanted to get information on the program.

He had Garrison Wells come out and pull the pump out of his well. They put in a new pump and lowered the pump at the cost of about $8,800. Garrison does not believe that it is going to last very long. “We do not have the details on the water levels there yet,” stated Helsley. Beverley has been advised that a new well should be drilled. He has obtained a permit from the county to replace the well. The quote for that was $61,000

Steve Johnson of Stetson Engineers said, “The Beyerly well is two blocks away from the Stark Street well. We have a monitoring well where we will be taking data. That well is located not too far from the area where there has been a decline of water wells.

Beyerly has been directed to request assistance. When he has completed his application, we will review that and bring the information back to the board with a recommendation.”

More recently, Garrison Wells reported to April that there was another well located on Las Flores that had gone dry. On Monday, the well owner, Mr. Alpen, contacted April and reported that he needed assistance. He submitted a request for emergency support, which is one of the provisions of the board-approved policy.

After Garrison looked at that well, he said there is only seven feet of water left in that well. Johnson said we anticipate we will be seeing more of this in these same areas. That could be a subject for the Consolidation Grant that was granted to the GA, where we get funding from the State. These two areas might be a place where we want to start. Alpen mentioned in his emergency application that he would be open to trying to get water from the Water District.

Board member Griffin said, “We are putting out there that wells are going dry. Neither one of these wells went dry. What is happening is that the pump is not low enough.  There is still water in the wells, so I don’t want to put the scare out there that the wells are going dry. In my opinion, this is misinformation. We don’t know anything about any of these wells yet. We don’t know if it’s a casing problem or what the problem is until these wells are looked at. So, to say that the wells went dry is not an accurate statement. I do not want to put this out as a board to say that we had two wells go dry this weekend. They both have water, and the pump can be lowered. They may need a new well, and the well may need to be deepened. That could be the case, and I agree with that. But, to say the wells went dry and put that scare out, I disagree with that.

“There has not been a drastic drop in that area. Actually, the water level has come up in that area in the last couple of years, so if there are some changes there that are happening, we need to look at it before we just come out and say two wells went dry. That’s what will be in the paper: two wells went dry. We don’t know everything yet, so let’s look at it. Have Stetson do an analysis on it and see what they come up with before we just make the assumptions just because somebody called and said my well went dry. Because they did not go dry, they may need to lower the pump. If that happens, they may need to drill further down. I understand that that could be a problem, but we do not know what the problem is. I just do not want to put that statement out there that two wells went dry. That is not what happened. There is water in the well. It is just that the pump has to be lowered a little bit.

“If the casing is bad, it is not allowing the water to come in, and then it would not pump, no matter what level it is. We need to know that before we make that statement.”

Hall said, regarding the Beyerly well, “The report from Garrison is that they have lowered the pump as far as they can in the well, and it’s not going to last long. The well has to be deepened. Regarding the other well that we have just gotten a report on, what we have seen in the report so far is that the bottom of the well is seven feet from the top of the waterline. So it’s the same situation. Seven feet isn’t enough depth for what we need, so when we say wells are drying because of an overdraft, think about it: simply, the levels are dropping; the wells can’t artificially go lower. They are set at a certain stage, and we are getting water levels below where the wells have been.”

Griffin said, “Let them submit these things, review them, and look forward from that point. It could well be that they are impacted. That’s what we need to know. I don’t want the information to go out there before we look at it that two wells went dry because we don’t know enough yet. Once Stetson looks at it, we will have the answer.”