By Patricia Farris News Review Publisher
The following Op-Ed was submitted by Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority General Manager Carol Thomas-Keefer to The Daily Independent on June 20.
The Op-Ed was not released to The News Review; however, after reading it in The Daily Independent, we believe it raises some serious questions that need clarification. We are now publishing this Op-Ed for our readers.
By permission of Rod Steifvater of Mojave Pistachios, we are publishing his response that appeared in The Daily Independent on June 23.
Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority Op-Ed:
A New Model for Peaceful Resolution of Water Disputes
At the June 14, 2023, meeting of the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority (IWVGA) Board of Directors, General Counsel Keith Lemieux had some very surprising news to report. It seems that, in addition to working for the Groundwater Authority, Mr. Lemieux also represents clients in the Las Posas Basin in Ventura County. As in our local basin, the Las Posas Basin is managed by a groundwater authority — in this case, the Fox Canyon Groundwater Management Agency. Also, like our basin, certain unsatisfied pumpers had filed a groundwater adjudication to resolve water rights in the basin – resulting in expensive litigation. Mr. Lemieux reported to the IWVGA Board that this lawsuit had been recently settled and that the settlement had been approved by the court.
This was good news, at least for the Las Posas folks, but what was really of interest to the IWVGA Board and community was this: Mr. Lemieux stated that the Las Posas settlement used our IWVGA public engagement structure to help resolve its water dispute. It seems that in the Las Posas Basin, the Fox Canyon GMA leaders were concerned with improving public participation in the process. They wanted to make sure that their settlement improved the public’s ability to comment on and participate in groundwater management matters. And to meet that objective they looked to our local IWVGA efforts.
IWVGA has long had a Policy Advisory Committee (PAC) made up of local citizens with an interest in groundwater management. In fact, the PAC is the successor to a prior organization of concerned citizens who have been vigilant about groundwater issues for decades. Mr. Lemieux revealed that with his assistance the Las Posas settlement incorporated IWVGA’s PAC structure and process into its program as a means to increase public participation. He also noted that while the Indian Wells Valley groundwater issues seem to be contentious and unsolvable, other areas in the state are looking to us for solutions to their problems.
Mr. Lemieux also suggested that perhaps the Indian Wells Valley could look to Las Posas as a model to settle some of our problems. He mentioned that another part of the Las Posas settlement was an acceptance by the pumpers that the groundwater sustainability plan (GSP) adopted by Fox Canyon GMA would be the basis for the court’s management of the basin going forward. Since IWVGA also has an approved GSP for our basin, Mr. Lemieux suggested that this resolution, if accepted by parties in court, could allow our local stakeholders to move past current disputes and put an end to expensive, ongoing and unnecessary litigation.
I support Mr. Lemieux’s suggestion and encourage the IWVGA Board and other local parties to consider the Las Posas settlement – specifically the adoption of the basin’s approved GSP as the court-approved management plan – as a model for resolving our local groundwater management conflicts. A plan that will end costly litigation and allow the Indian Wells Valley parties to move forward peacefully and collaboratively with sustainable groundwater management? Yes, please!
The Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority is a Groundwater Sustainability Agency tasked by the State to bring the Basin into sustainability. It is a joint powers authority consisting of the Counties of Kern, San Bernardino, and Inyo; the City of Ridgecrest; and the Indian Wells Valley Water District. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the United States Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake are ex-officio members of the Authority.
Op-Ed: The Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority’s (IWVGA) June 20 opinion piece raises serious questions
By Rod Stiefvater, Mojave Pistachios Jun 21, 2023
Why is the IWVGA spending taxpayer dollars on an opinion piece touting their attorney’s role in the Las Posas Basin groundwater case settlement in Ventura County? Was it the IWVGA’s $105/acre-foot Extraction Fee or the IWVGA’s $2,130/acre-foot Replenishment Fee that footed the bill for the staff time that was involved?
If, as the opinion piece says, the IWVGA is serious about wanting to “look to Las Posas as a model to settle some of our problems” here in the Indian Wells Valley Basin, will the IWVGA adopt the following key aspects of the Las Posas settlement?
• Will the IWVGA agree, like the Fox Canyon GMA did in Las Posas, that its GSP will be subject to complete review to correct defects, including an inaccurate sustainable yield, subject to court oversight?
• Will the IWVGA revise its water allocation system, which gives farmers zero allocation, so that here, like in Las Posas, all overlying users are given a pumping allocation?
• Will the IWVGA grant, as planned in Las Posas, many overlying users an additional “variance” on top of their allocations to allow additional production?
• Will the IWVGA allow current allowable pumping (initial operating yield) to exceed the safe yield, as agreed to in Las Posas?
• Will the IWVGA defer planned pumping reductions for the next five years while projects to enhance yield are developed, as planned in Las Posas?
• Will the IWVGA craft its system of projects so that there would be no need for pumping reductions if projects proceed as planned?
• Will the IWVGA rescind its $2,130/acre-foot Replenishment Fee and adopt an approximately $200/acre-foot assessment on allocations, as envisioned in Las Posas, to fund these projects?
• Will the IWVGA structure its system in a way that the avoidance of pumping reductions is not dependent on imported water, as contemplated in Las Posas?
• Will the IWVGA set up its governance structure like the Fox Canyon GMA Board, which has an agricultural representative and is comprised of parties that actually pump groundwater?
• Will the IWVGA elevate the role of our Policy Advisory Committee (PAC) and Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) so that they are true analytic bodies that will provide detailed written recommendations on all important basin management decisions? Will the IWVGA actually listen to the members of our community? Will the IWVGA agree, like Fox Canyon GMA did, that if the IWVGA fails to follow a PAC or TAC recommendation, it must explain its decision in writing, subject to the court’s oversight?
The community deserves answers.
Rod Stiefvater, Mojave Pistachios
Indian Wells Valley Water District responded to the op-ed
IWVWD General Manager Don Zdeba noted that the proposed solution involved getting all parties to accept the approved Groundwater Sustainability Plan for the local basin.
“Based on existing lawsuits by some major pumpers, getting all parties to agree to accept the GSP as the basin management tool in court might be the challenge. That remains to be seen,” Zdeba said.
IWVWD Vice President Ron Kicinski said to The News Review, “It was difficult to determine whether the plan described by Keefer would work without knowing more about the Las Posas Basin.”
“We don’t know what Los Posas is like or how it relates to our valley. I don’t know.”
“I would want to know more about Las Posas. Is it made up of bigger pumpers? Do they have any large farms? We don’t know the story behind it. It’s nice Las Posas solved their problem, but I’m not sure how it applies to us.” Kicinski said.