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IWVGA refutes Mojave Pistachios’ Court Appeal

By Patricia Farris News Review Publisher–    At the May 10 meeting of the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority (IWVGA), the board discussed the GA’s take on the recent decision of the Appellate Court of Appeals to side with Mojave Pistachios, compelling the GA to show cause as to why the court should not grant Mojave Pistachios petition.

Director Chuck Griffin requested information on the GA’s position. Legal counsel for the GA, Keith Lemieux, said “The GA successfully got causes of action dismissed before trial through what is called a demure so some causes of action including a request for damages were thrown out of the court for legal reasons. Normally you have to wait until the end of the case to appeal. There is an unusual procedure where sometimes you can appeal in the middle of the case. Mojave Pistachios invoked that procedure. This is the second time they have done that in this case. The first time the court just said ’No’, this time around, instead of just saying no, they said they wanted to receive a brief from the GA. That’s it, that’s the whole story.”

Director Chuck Griffin commented, “So the GA will prepare a brief and answer back?“ Lemieux confirmed he continued by saying, “It remains to be seen what they do. The big picture, what this means is that there is now a chance that the case won’t be thrown out before trial. That’s all it means.”

The agenda called for a report from Jean Morand from Stetson Engineering on the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) emergency water releases. She reported that most releases are concentrated near the Freeman Wash, where the greatest release has been. That also includes releases from Indian Wells Canyon. Morand also reported the sub-flow from Rose Valley to the Indian Wells Valley basin, “We reached 600ft after drilling through 91ft of rock. It took a while to get through the fault. We are constructing the well with casing today.”

“The water releases started on March 29 and is continuing. The general consensus is that it will be continuing through in one place to it will recharge,  she said.

“The fundamental thing is what is happening with the ground level and the aquifer does it really recharge? How much can be contributed to the rain or less pumping?”

Director Chuck Griffin, who represents the Water District, said, “It’s time to step up and get our act together, we want to work on some percolation ponds where we can drill some shallow wells so we can actually achieve percolation for storage. We want to work with LAWD on some kind of banking project. We need to step up, and the Indian Wells Valley Water District (IWVWD) is very proactive in that.”

“The water that is flowing into this valley is a large amount of water. Griffin said. 10,000 gallons of water per minute is coming into this valley with one release, so there is a lot of water that we can be doing something with if we think ahead for the future. We do not know what will happen. Right now, we are losing the benefit of this water, we need to do this as soon as we can.”

At previous meetings, there have been several requests from GA board members as to the status of the audit. General Manager Carol Keefer said, “The audit is not finished, but we will have an audit presentation at the June meeting.”

The legislative update that was in the board packet was given by Michael McKinney of Capital Corp. He was requesting board approval.

“The staff report concerns legislation that we are following as well as how we notify the authority and the board relative to priority legislation. In addition to the priority legislation,  we are monitoring things of interest that do not rise to the level of priority and will provide the staff with regular updates. Our recommendation is to continue to be in support of that legislation as well as some modifications. Currently, our recommendation is to continue support of that legislation and to seek passage of that along with a very large coalition that we have helped develop.”

“Assembly Bill 560 deals with groundwater adjudication, this piece of the legislation basically asks the court to seek a non-binding opinion from the State of Water Resources Control Board prior to entering a judgment on groundwater adjudication.”

Lemieux said, “This does not substantially change the modifications but does allow the board to opine on the various aspects of the potential adjudication that is going forward. It is sponsored by the California Alliance for Family Farmers, it passed two policy committees, and it is currently pending in the Assembly Committee of Appropriations.”

“Our recommendation to the board is to support with amendments.” McKinney stated, “There is a letter in your packet for consideration for approval. This stuff does have significant opposition on large agricultural interests, but it is moving based upon the state budget being passed.”

Director Chuck Griffin referred to the second paragraph of the document that describes the basin as being “in critical overdraft. “I have an issue, the basin is involved in an adjudication proceeding that seeks to determine the water rights between large agriculture interests and cooling water for power plant operations in industrial mining operations, the US Navy, and water utilization. It’s my opinion that this is a slam to the residents of Searles Valley, they are an important member of our community, and for the GA to call them out on a cooling water use only is a slam to the people who live in Trona.  I have families that live there, I just think that needs to be removed.  I would not support this document. In the very last paragraph, it says on behalf of the member’s agency of the IWVGA, we respectfully request your consideration of our amendments to AB 779 as introduced on Feb 13, 2023. I would like to see “members agencies” removed if this letter is sent because, as a member agency, the Indian Wells Valley Waterboard would not support this letter.”

Lemieux spoke to the issue, saying, “I just want to make it clear that the position that Capital Corp is advocating in this letter advancing the GAs interest in the adjudication may be contrary to the water districts interest.”

Chairman of the board, Scott Hayman, said “My intent is to move forward with this with the change requested, saying, on behalf of the IWVGA, deleting “on behalf of the member’s agencies” By mutual agreement four members of the board approved of the letter, with director Griffin opposing.

Joshua Nugent of Mojave Pistachios’ LLC told The News Review, “We feel the intervention by the Appeals Court shows that there are significant state-wide issues at stake. The IWVGA is using the SGMA law to unconstitutionally choose winners and losers. We believe the GA should be held accountable for their actions.”

About the lobbying: “The Groundwater Authority is desperate to change the laws in their favor because their actions are legally questionable. Rather than act in good faith to implement the local management principles of SGMA, the GA seeks to expand its regulatory powers without any checks on their spending.” Nugent said.