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IWV Water Board questions GA’s recommendation to give staff authority to issue well permits

By Patricia Farris News Review Publisher–   At the regular July 11 Indian Wells Valley Water District (IWVWD) Board meeting the major concerns expressed were of the actions or inactions of the Groundwater Authority (GA). 

The issue was raised by some board members regarding the makeup of the GA Board questioning why it was not comprised of major pumpers. 

  Rajtora explained, “As it currently exists, four of the board members are not major pumpers. They are the City, Kern County, Inyo County and San Bernadino County. Consequently, the vote is usually four to one. Four of the people helping to solve the problem do not have a problem.”

  He also clarified to The News Review, the difference in some Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSA). “Some GSAs are formed under a Memorandum of Understanding organizational structure. This structure is very flexible relative who can be a voting member. Other GSAs, including the IWV GSA, are formed under a Joint Powers Agreement organization, where the members share similar police powers. This form of GSA is not flexible regarding voting membership, and is the reason the local GSA excludes many major pumpers. 

Rajtora also reported that the Annual Report of the GA was not discussed at the last GA meeting as had been promised. “The water board is insisting on getting the Annual Report to be a Board approved document rather than just being staff approved. It has been pulled and kept out of the GA agenda which concerns me,” Rajtora said. 

He then stated, “I will continue to encourage the GA’s use of planning tools such as putting down schedules, plans, budgets, etc. The Policy Advisory Committee (PAC) has also advocated this but both entities have previously been ignored and are continued to be ignored. We will continue to press for it.”

He did announce that General Manager Carol Thomas-Keefer has obtained a 2.5 million dollar grant for the city’s Wastewater Treatment Plant. “That is certainly a win for the city,” he said.

 “Executive Order 722 requires the GA to concur with any issuing of new well permits.

“The GA board is recommending that the staff assume the authority to issue well permits and make the required determination and forward a recommendation to the county. This cuts the board and the public out of the loop. There is no appeal process.”

Board Member Chuck Griffin related his concern to that initiative by saying, “My main concern right now is if we turn over the authority to the GA staff to say, ‘You can’t have a well, you can have well, you can’t have a well.’ We have two people on that board that live in this valley. And if we let this happen, we are giving authorization for three outside entities to run our city and our district and what happens in this valley. And that concerns me very much. Do I think it’s going to change the way the vote happens at the GA? No, I think they’ll probably approve it and say the staff has the authority to do it. And then, I think we’re screwed because they’re gonna say who can drill a well who can’t drill well at that point. So it really frustrates me and if that happens, I think maybe it’s time we make some changes.”

Rajtora stated, “That is a concern but my primary concern is still the inability to measure change to groundwater and storage. This remains my current primary technical concern. We are three years behind the power curve and I’m not sure how we’re going to catch up at this point in time. I’m a little concerned there are members of the GA that don’t understand how important that is.

“Very little was presented at the last GA meeting regarding technical progress. Mainly these reports are on documented money spent without any technical specific items mentioned.”

Board Vice President Mallory Boyd requested information on the audit. Rajtora said, “The audit came through a clean audit. It took a lot longer than it should have, but it was the first time they have done a real audit. There were a lot of corrective actions that the auditor requested the General Manager to make in terms of processing. She assured the board that all those corrective actions have been made and so we would expect a lot cleaner process the next time around.”

Boyd thanked Rajtora, saying “Thank you for keeping the pressure on them. I don’t think we’d have an audit right now if you hadn’t put yourself at personal risk and pushed the GA for the past six months to put that together.”