Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority (IWVGA)– The Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority (IWVGA) supported Assembly Bill 779 and acted as the primary proponent of the legislation during the legislative process. As the Chair and Vice Chair of the Authority, we both testified in support of AB 779 during the Committee hearings and urged the Governor to sign the bill into law. The Groundwater Authority believes all water rights should be considered during the adjudication, all parties should pay their fair share of mitigation fees required to bring the basin into sustainability, and efforts must be made to limit the costs associated with the litigation.
From our perspective, AB 779 is simple matter of fairness and due process. The 800 small well owners, representing over 2,100 people mainly in the unincorporated areas of the Basin, should not have their voices silenced before the court because they cannot pay for ten years’ worth of attorney fees during the adjudication process. Large agricultural water users shouldn’t be allowed to bypass the approved Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP)while everyone else adheres to that plan, and taxpayers shouldn’t be paying multiple litigation costs while some parties attempt to shop the courts for the answer they want. AB 779 addresses those issues.
Unfortunately, the IWV Water District, Mojave Pistachio LLC, Searles Valley Minerals, Sierra Shadow Ranch, and Meadowbrook Dairy opposed AB 779. They oppose the ability of the court to hear evidence from small farmers and other small well owners regarding their water rights. Instead, they prefer to force IWVGA into costly litigation arguments to ensure all water rights are considered during the adjudication. They oppose all parties within the basin adhering to the GSP during the adjudication. Instead, they support the continuation of the Water District’s ratepayers bearing the burden of the sustainability costs while Mojave Pistachios continues to overdraft water supplies and Searles Valley Minerals continues to use groundwater to cool their coal-fired powerplant. They oppose requiring that the court’s judgement will not substantially impair the ability of a GSA, DWR, or SWRCB to achieve sustainability for our groundwater basin. Instead, they preferred to argue their case before the Superior Court, and when that did not go their way, they appealed but filed a secondary cause of action for the same thing in the adjudication. That is forum shopping at the taxpayer’s expense.
The Region’s residents need to understand the Water District has sided with litigants who are seeking superior water rights to those of the District itself and the United States Navy, which is the main economic driver in the Basin. All at the expense of their own ratepayers.
Thankfully, the California Legislature and the Governor saw through the arguments and passed this bill into law. AB 779 doesn’t cost taxpayers more money. It costs litigants more money to argue against these principles of fairness while eliminating duplicative litigation costs.
All Comments Attributed to both: Phillip Peters, Vice Chair IWVGA, Supervisor Kern County, Scott Hayman, Chair IWVGA, Council Member City of Ridgecrest.