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IWVGA hears concerns on Board finances

By Patricia Farris News Review Publisher The Indian Wells Valley Ground Water Authority (GA) held their monthly meeting on October 12 at the City Council Chambers. During the public comment portion of the meeting, Judie Decker, who sits on the Public Advisory Committee (PAC) and also the Kern County Resources Conservation District (KCRCD) Board, brought to the attention of the GA Board concerns regarding their finances. She referred to the Department of Water Resources (DWR) Workshop saying, “Many questioned where your money is coming from, everybody thinks that the money comes solely from the Indian Wells Valley Water District as part of the Replenishment Fees. People do not know where the money is going and they are accusing you (referring to the GA Board) of various things. I think it would be a great benefit to yourselves, to the organization you represent, and to the public if you could publicly, annually and perhaps quarterly,  report how much money you take in in pumping fees, replenishment fees and where the money is being spent.”

Chairman Phillip Peters related that a lot of questions have come up at the most recent Water District Board Meeting. “Especially about the imported water,” he said. “The District wants to see the total cost of the purchase of the water rights, the pipeline, infrastructure, and whatever is required for the completion of the project.” Peters requested IWVGA’s Acting General Manager (GM) Carol Keefer put together a letter that would address some of the concerns brought up by the Water District. That way, he said, “There will be no questions about it in the future.”

Concerning Board Action in the Resolution authorizing the staff to execute a lease agreement with the State of California for monitoring access, Jeff Helsey of the Water Resources Management Group explained, “This would give the GA access to four existing monitoring wells sometimes referred to as the Lumber Mill Wells. This would provide data that would be used in conjunction that would come from the Rose Valley Wells. The Rose Valley Project will be funded by the Navy Coso Royalty Funds. The data from the two wells will be used to estimate the underflow from the Rose Valley area into the Indian Wells Valley (IWV) Basin. This information can be used in updating the model and the Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP). It is a 20 year lease.” 

The motion was unanimously passed.

A Resolution approving an agreement with the Antelope Valley Earth Kern Water Agency (AVEK) for a preparation alignment study regarding imported water connections and deposits was discussed.  A representative of the Capital Core Group provided background information. He explained that in July Provost and Pritchard Contractors were contacted to get specific information pertaining to not only the existing pipeline but some of the studies and information Antelope Valley has that will require engaging their staff that Provost and Pritchard will need to complete the interconnection study. As a result, AVEK is requesting a deposit of $5,000 to pay for their assistance in the interconnection project. Provost and Pritchard noted that this is a critical component in order to complete the study.

Stan Rajtora, Board Member representing the Indian Wells Valley Water District (IWVWD), noted that there was no agreement in the data package that he received. He questioned whether or not there was a written agreement available. Helsey responded that it is available and the GA staff had reviewed and were okay with it. Rajtora said, “Then we are being asked to approve a document that is not in the package. It does not mention any documents that I have in writing as to what the cost is, the schedule is, or what the funding source is. I am not willing to write a blank check without some verification that we really know what we are doing. I prefer to have the written document that is declared to be attached, but obviously not. Could you answer for me the total cost, schedule, and funding source?”

Helsey replied, “There is an initial deposit of $5,000. The  total cost will be based on whatever we use AVEK staff to do. Provost and Pritchard would not anticipate that. This would use up the $5,000 deposit. I believe some of the funding for this will be awarded to the GA by the DWR.”

Rajtora asked, “Do we have any idea of the magnitude of the estimate of what the total cost would be? And is there any way of limiting our liability at this point in time?”

 Helsey responded, “Do not have any idea of the order of magnitude of some of these things that would be reimbursed much later in the projects when we start designing the connection. We will review the plans that are connecting to the system. 

Board member John Vallejo, “I echo Rajtora’s sentiments regarding approving an agreement that is not attached to the agenda. It sounds like the agreement has been drafted and received by staff. The only real issue is that it has not been attached to the Board Agenda. Is it possible that we can ask staff for a copy of this agreement so we can have a chance to review it?”

Water Resource Manager Steve Johnson responded, “We will follow-up with a written copy and we will be involved in coordination between Provost and Pritchard and the AVEK staff. We have a pretty good judge of the level of questions being asked and level of response required as to how much it will cost. We are unable to put a number on it right now. We have not seen the request, but we will be managing the cost.”

Rajtora questioned, “Am I correct that Stetson is in the loop between Provost and Pritchard and that they cannot be requesting data without the knowledge and agreement of Stetson?”

Helsey responded, “That is correct.”

The motion was carried to approve the agreement.

The next item on the Agenda reads: Approval of Letter to AVEK regarding Imported Water Connection. GM Keefer approved a revised letter by Capital Core to the AVEK Board.  She said, “This is essentially a follow-up on what was made to AVEK several months ago when we first entered discussions on an imported water connection. At that time the GA staff recommended that we should solve at least some portion of imported water supplies to be able to further the discussions. We have made considerable progress, that is what the letter concurs. Basically a follow-up to the Board letting AVEK work with Provost and Pritchard to get the alignment study that we have contracted for the water purchases.”

Rajtora said, “Regarding paragraph two of the Resolution, it stated that ‘We also hope that the funding we have secured, as well as, the fees we have collected through the Replenishment Fees show that we have committed to purchase water, build infrastructure necessary to deliver it, then pay our fair share towards ongoing maintenance and associated infrastructure requirements.’ This is going one step further than what is requested in the first paragraph. This does not really add anything to the document. The Water District is not committed to two – three – or four hundred million dollars at this point. The District’s interest is in the sustainability of the Basin and what the real costs are to import water. 

“I respectfully request that you delete the second sentence,” said Rajtora. “It does not lose anything that is more in line with what the District is interested in. We need to figure out what we are doing and how much it will cost.”

Kern County Legal Counsel Phil Hall spoke to the imported water cost. He referred to the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) and the GA sites that showed anticipated costs based on getting help for the infrastructure and the grant fees. He pulled up a slide for the presentation showing estimated cost for importing water. It showed estimated costs for the AVEK project for infrastructure at $88 million, one time acquisition at $48 million, annual operation and maintenance cost at $2.3 million, annual service cost at $5.9 million, and costs per acre feet of water between $2,860 and $3,220. The slide was dated as being presented on September 5, 2019 at the TAC meeting. Hall said that the slide had been presented to the Board before and has been on the website for a long time. He stated that the Water District has not only seen these numbers, but has also commented on them. 

“They are still there and the other part that is troubling is that nobody has presented any sustainable plan for this Basin sustainability plan that does not include imported water,” Hall said. “Even the white paper that we have includes the import project. The only difference between the white paper and the GSP is that the white paper includes the Basin’s storage for multiple years and includes 1,000 acre feet to grow some trees. This is the cost of an imported water project. Nobody has shown us a sustainability plan that does not ultimately rely on an imported project. These numbers have been out there and well-know for these years.”

It should be noted that these numbers were published in 2019 so costs have undoubtedly increased immeasurably with increased interest and cost of purchasing water rights.

Vallejo spoke regarding the statement in question in the resolution by saying, “The official position of the GA that the statement made in the sentence is correct. I would leave the statement in since it is the official position of the GA.”

The motion to approve the agreement was passed with Rajtora the only dissenting vote.

At one point IWVGA GM Keefer presented the 2023 Budget to the Board stating that, “The total revenue is projected to be $7.57 million, total expenses $4,896,354.” She noted that the details can be found in the Board Meeting package at the website www.IWVGA.org. 

Rajtora was the only dissenting vote due to having only three days to review the project.