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Letter to Manager of IWV Groundwater Authority from Rod Stiefvater of Mojave Pistachios

December 13, 2022

Ms. Carol Thomas-Keefer 
Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority 
100 West California Avenue 
Ridgecrest, CA 93555 

 Via email () 

 Re: Response to Letter Dated October 21, 2022 and Comment on December 14, 2022 IWVGA Board Agenda Item 14 

 

 Dear Ms. Thomas-Keefer: 

 On behalf of Mojave Pistachios, I provide this response to your October 21, 2022 letter to the Indian Wells Valley Water District, which was included in the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority’s (IWVGA) November 2022 board packet. Although the letter is addressed to the Water District, I believe a response is warranted because the letter makes thirteen references to me and my company. Please also distribute this letter to the members of the IWVGA Board as a comment on the December 14, 2022, Board Agenda Item 14.   

 

The IWVGA’s letter references my 2015 testimony to the Kern County Planning Commission and attaches my company’s 2014 comment letter to the Kern County Board of Supervisors, both of which predate the IWVGA’s formation, and the numerous technical studies of the Basin that we now have access to. Curiously, these references also significantly predate your tenure as General Manager of the IWVGA. The tone of the letter is also concerning and seems to be part of a larger effort to intimidate people in the Water District and in the local community and is counterproductive to any sort of water user cooperation. It is hard to believe that the sentiments in the letter are shared by staff or local residents that are knowledgeable in water matters.  

 

I disagree with your assertions that my farm is the source of the “Basin’s water supply problem” and that the IWVGA’s imported water proposal is at all economical. The GSP only listed two options to enhance the Basin’s water supply. Additional options should have been considered and put forth to the community for debate and input. These options include: 

 

1.      Distributing existing pumping, including by regulating the siting of new wells in certain areas and by relocating some existing wells in areas with deep cones of depression (well water levels) – e.g., along Highway 178 between Inyokern and Ridgecrest. 

 

2.      Acquiring land in the Fremont Valley, installing one or two wells, and constructing a small pipeline into the Basin through the Red Rock area. This pipeline could pick up additional well water from new wells constructed as described in #1, above. 

 

3.      Negotiating a deal with LADWP to, at least in wet years, deliver water from LADWP’s existing outlets from pipelines across the 4-6 canyons it passes through. LADWP did this in 2017 voluntarily and at no cost to the Basin, so there is precedent for this solution. This water could be purchased from LADWP or a portion left in the Basin by LADWP as payment for using the Basin as a recharge basin/stormwater bank. 

 

4.      Continuing DWR grant funded efforts of the brackish/reverse osmosis/Coso brine use program by asking the Navy for cooperation for the location of appropriately distributed brackish test wells on Navy base property and water lines to Coso Geothermal and Ridgecrest. The amount of brackish water in the Basin is huge versus the water need of all activities in the Basin. 

 

It’s true that in 2015 I was optimistic about the possibility of bringing imported water to the Indian Wells Valley. Today, nearly eight years later, I’m still optimistic that the major water users in the Indian Wells Valley can come together and agree upon a management plan to achieve sustainability and manage the Basin to prevent undesirable results. In fact, as a byproduct of this year’s DWR-sponsored facilitation, technical experts for the major water users have been working together for months on the technical foundations to achieve this. Six years into the IWVGA’s existence and millions of dollars in legal representation later, however, I’m no longer optimistic that the IWVGA, under its current leadership, which has excluded public participation and continued to personally attack the Water District and other major water users, will be a constructive part of any solution in the Basin.  

 

The letter demonstrates that the IWVGA is more preoccupied with sowing division between actual water users than in achieving economical solutions by engaging those users. Notably, these are the same water users that the IWVGA has determined need to rapidly fund the IWVGA’s investment at fees so high as to cause bankruptcy and financial turmoil. Who will fund this imported water purchase then? Since my 2015 comments before the Kern County Planning Commission, the IWVGA and its Board have rejected my company’s attempts to participate in the Basin governance process, removed Mojave Pistachios’ representatives from seats on the IWVGA’s Technical and Policy Advisory Committees, purported to deny my company access to the groundwater underlying my property, and sued my company to shut off its wells if I don’t pay tens of millions of dollars to finance the IWVGA’s imported water pipe dream.   

 

It may be possible that imported water will one day be part of long term sustainable management of the Basin. The IWVGA’s current proposal, however, is irresponsible, not financially feasible, and environmentally damaging. The IWVGA advocates for construction of an approximately 50-mile long pipeline from California City to Ridgecrest that would impact desert tortoise critical habitat, traverse federal lands, state parks and other protected lands, and navigate two mountain ranges, significant elevation gains, and long stretches without power. Simply obtaining the approvals to construct a pipeline over prime desert land from various jurisdictions could take decades and cost millions in mitigation fees that are not included in the GSP costs. As a foundational issue, it’s absurd to propose a monstrous infrastructure project to bring in such a small amount of unreliable water into a Basin that has over 70 million acre-feet of high quality water in storage. In violation of environmental laws and the public’s right to be heard, and without presenting any comparative cost analysis to the public, the IWVGA has not even considered quicker and less expensive and environmentally damaging projects, including those presented above. The IWVGA has also entirely failed to consider other potential alternatives to bringing the Basin into balance, including purchasing and retiring farmland or demand reduction.  

 

The letter indicates that the IWVGA has also decided to write off other technologically feasible alternatives, including the use of brackish and recycled water, as “infeasible” and “undeniably insufficient.”  This conclusion just doesn’t add up and fails to recognize the promise of these technologies. Recycled water, in particular, shows promise for application in the agricultural context. The IWVGA, however, appears to have rejected agricultural application out of hand. With respect to brackish water, the two primary challenges are access and model shortcomings. These challenges can be overcome. The primary accessibility challenge is that most brackish supplies lie beneath Naval Air Weapons Station (NAWS) China Lake. This challenge can be addressed through a partnership with the Navy. The second challenge is that the DRI model is inadequate for predicting project-specific impacts at a localized scale. This challenge can be overcome by improving the model’s old, assumed data with the very accurate, revised hydrological conceptual model (HCF) by Ramboll whose use of its recent and highly accurate data was rejected by the IWVGA. 

 

As noted in the IWVGA’s letter, I serve on the Board of Directors of the Belridge Water Storage District (BWSD). Throughout my career, I’ve prioritized service and involvement on the boards of local agencies and community organizations because I view public service as a way to foster solutions and to improve and serve local communities in which I am involved. The letter, however, wrongly claims that I’m opposed to the IWVGA’s absurd proposal to spend $50 million on purchasing a water right entitlement and then hundreds of millions more to construct a 50-mile import pipeline, etc. because BWSD would be required to “compete . . . with the domestic needs of the Indian Wells Valley.” This is patently false and utterly ridiculous. First of all, BWSD has been receiving water from the State Water Project (SWP) via the California Aqueduct and like other districts that hold SWP entitlements, BWSD regularly buys additional supplies. Second, I’m opposed to the IWVGA’s proposal because—from where I sit after four decades in the agriculture industry and many years of service on the boards of other water agencies—I believe the IWVGA’s proposal is an egregiously expensive, environmentally damaging boondoggle that local residents will not be able to afford. The problem that the IWVGA seeks to solve with its 50-mile pipeline is better solved at far less cost through examining all available options including retiring farmland, recycling water, dispersing current pumping, using brackish water, and alternate pipeline/import routes and sources, via constructive dialogue that includes all major pumpers in the Indian Wells Valley.  

 

Last, I object to the IWVGA’s characterization of me as “disingenuous.” To the contrary, I’m sincere in my efforts to achieve sustainability, participate in Basin governance, and to improve the collective technical understanding of the Basin and find a solution we can all afford. My business and livelihood depends on it. This is why my company has partnered in efforts to find solutions, including uses for brackish groundwater, as the letter acknowledges. I also reject the letter’s attempt to make my company out to be the scapegoat, claiming that “every groundwater pumper in the Basin is now required to defend their rights or risk losing them to Mojave Pistachios.” This is simply false and not how a water rights’ adjudication works. Like other landowners, Mojave Pistachios holds overlying groundwater rights. Through the groundwater adjudication case, the court will evaluate the state of the Basin and develop a fair and equitable physical solution that encompasses all water rights holders.    

 

In the future, I encourage the IWVGA to become more constructive, inclusive, and solutions-oriented in its plans, procedures, governance, and communication.  I also suggest that you, or the authors of future such IWVGA correspondence, first contact me before issuing public communications that incorrectly characterize me and my company.  As a Kern County resident who has made very significant investment in the Indian Wells Valley and is one of the largest property taxpayers, I urge the IWVGA, as SGMA recognizes in its mandate, to involve Basin stakeholders and major water users in the decision-making process. 

 

Sincerely, 

Rod Stiefvater, Mojave Pistachios