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Water District contends they support Navy’s full water allocation

By Patricia Farris News Review Publisher–
At the April 8 Indian Wells Valley Water District board meeting, the board discussed the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority’s (GA)plan to add an additional ten miles of pipeline for the Imported Water Pipeline Project. The pipeline would connect with California City. There was a concern that that would add significant cost to the overall long-term plan and how that would increase the cost to the valley of the Imported Pipeline Project. This is another price that is going to cost a lot of money and needs to be factored into our consideration at some point.

Later on in the meeting, Director Griffin said, “We are not interested in trying to affect the Navy’s water rights. We want the Navy to have whatever their allocation is.  It’s not about saying to the Navy, hey, you guys, we want 4000-acre feet (ACF). We only want you to have 100 acre-feet. We want the Navy to have whatever their allocation is, and our attorney said that to the judge. The judge flat-out asked the attorney, what if the Navy’s allocation was everything? He said, so be it. Whatever it is, if that is what the Navy needs, that’s the desire of the District, and I want to get that out to the public. We are not here to take someone’s water rights. I get the question proposed: What if diminimus users want two acre-feet, and we only have one acre-feet? We have heard that the District wants to take the other acre-foot. That is not the case; we are not here to take people’s rights away. We just have to go through the adjudication to get the Navy’s water rights established so we can figure out a total allocation table. We need to get that out there.

Director Stan Rajtora said that on an entirely different subject, “About 3 or 4 months ago, the Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) according to their schedule, the GSP should be updated and there should be four draft chapters out at the end of March.” Rajtora said, “I looked on the internet and brought up the GSP and GA website but could not find them. Also, at the end of this month, there are supposed to be two more chapters. If they are behind schedule, I would like to know, and Chuck, if you could follow up on how they are doing relative to the schedule. I think the public has a right to know what they are doing and what these draft chapters look like. If they are behind, they should acknowledge that they are behind.

Another item that came up at the planned equipment meeting is that it was the intent of the consolidation of the June 3rd meeting we should be getting some allocations of water from the Replenishment Fee. I would like to see that followed up on.”

George Croll, Indian Wells Valley Water District General Manager, said that question came up at a staff meeting. The GA staff responded by saying that their proposed way ahead with the consolidations is to look at the historical pumping at the consolidations and grant the District an additional amount equal to the average pumping over the same time frame.

Worth stated, “That should be fair.”

Croll said, “In answer to your first question, in theory, I am a member of the Policy Advisory Committee (PAC). I went to one meeting, but there has not been a scheduled meeting since that time. I’m not sure why. I have another member in this room, but certainly, my understanding is my first and only meeting of the PAC for the GA was that the PAC would get to review those chapters. We have seen nothing at this point in time. I don’t know how to explain that.”

Director Chuck Griffin, who represents the Water District on the GA, said, “I will definitely ask that question.”

Rajtora said, “There is a consolidation presentation that is going to be given this Wednesday.”

Jim Worth gets to that, I have a few comments regarding a recent publication. In the last couple of months, we have seen some encouraging times for the GA that have indicated a warm-up of our relationship. In a recent publication, however, intellectually and maliciously belied the Water District and its representatives and reported falsehoods and opinions as fact. I urge our Supervisors of the various counties and our City Council to be cautious when the staff presents you with that sort of material or intends to publish it. That is damaging the relationship between the other members of the GA and the Water District, and they are ill-served by the staff when that happens.”

Worth reported that a court hearing was held on March 22nd. “The purpose of the hearing was to hear the District’s request for a phase 1 trial. They thought its purpose was to request that the court set a trial on these matters: the Federal Reserve Right and the amount of groundwater in storage.

The court agreed and set the trial for the Federal Reserve Rights for April 25, 2025.

The Vice President of the Board alluded to a newspaper article that the District was anti-Navy and that the intentions for the District were somehow to control the Navy’s pumping. That has never been the case; in fact, during the hearing, the Department of Justice representing the Navy agreed with the court that that was an inappropriate time for the trial of the Federal Reserve Rights. I do not want to go back too far, but the District has always said and explained that the purpose of filling the adjudication was that this was the only way you could get a court determination in the amount of the Federal Reserve Rights, which is critical if you are going to allocate the remainder of the water rights. So, the setting of the trial for the Federal Reserve Rights is what the District has intended all along; we were hoping to include groundwater in storage. It was not to mind the scene as was suggested. It was just that mudslides take a toll on the amount of groundwater in storage. It is necessary to understand the basin in which we live and to formulate a fiscal solution. The judge denied it without prejudice, and I believe he just needs a little more education to understand the importance of this. Along those lines, when the court didn’t grant groundwater in storage, Searles Valley, at the end of the hearing, stood up and addressed the court, saying they would be moving in June.” Worth said, “We have a hearing on June 14th. It sounds like we will be moving to request a stage 2 trial. That would be a safe yield, particularly for groundwater and storage. So, from the Water District, we see that as a very good feeling. We are moving forward; we find we have a trial date set, and we are going to continue on that move forward.

One aspect is that initial disclosures will be due in 45 days, as previously stated. The initial disclosures from every party included in the Groundwater Adjudication summarize their water use over the past ten years. When we receive their initial disclosure, we expect to have a lot of clarity about what the Navy is going to be contending when we receive their initial disclose. This is a positive step that is certainly necessary to move the phase forward for everyone else.

This is particularly true for the people in Ridgecrest that last month in March, you may have seen people canvassing the City and either posting signs on a property or handing door hangers advising them to agree that the Water District had filed an adjudication and how they could respond and get connected with it. The last date to file and answer is the latter part of May, depending on where your service was. You may recall that there was a $1,000 fee to file an answer, but the court has waived that once again, so if anyone wants to file an answer and get involved in the lawsuit. It does not cost anything other than your time.

This is not relating to the adjudication,” Worth said, “but I will say it anyway: at the June 14 hearing as is presently scheduled, I do not know if it is going to go forward, but the GA is presenting an injunction against Mojave Pistachios to prevent them from pumping until they pay the Replenishment Fee, that is expected to be heard on June 14th.”

Director Griffin said, “I have a question for Jim. Was anything mentioned about Searles Valley?”

Worth responded, “Actually, the Judge asked that. The Judge was inquiring whether the GA would make a similar motion against Searles Valley. They indicated that it was under consideration. We all understand that it is a different ball game. I think at some point they will file against Searles if they continue not to pay the fee.”

Griffin said, “As far as what happened, I think we have an obligation to the citizens. I get by two different Directors of the GA that talk is cheap. They do not see any public output from the board saying that they do not want to hurt the Navy, that we do not want to hurt small pumpers. We are not interested in hurting the small pumpers or taking their water rights. That’s definitely my opinion, as I believe it is the opinion of the Board. We are not trying to affect the small pumpers; that is why we requested that the fee be withheld. But we had to include everybody since it was a Comprehensive Adjudication to get the Navy water rights established; that was first and foremost.

“The GA, and particularly Legal Counsel Phill Hall, likes to throw out that Mojave Pistachios is a litigative partner of the District. The District does not have a litigative partner. We have to protect the water rights of the district and the community as a whole because that includes everybody. But to say that we are partners with Searles is not right. We are working with these three in common interest. That common interest is to determine what the community needs and what the true amount of groundwater in storage is.”