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“There shall be streams in the desert, and it shall blossom …” Isaiah 35 Water rushes out of Indian Wells Canyon, flowing underneath Highway 14 and pooling in the valley below Northwest of Inyoken Airport. It is mostly due to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) sand trap water release. / Laura Austin Photo

Water District reports on LADWP water releases

By Patricia Farris News Review Publisher–

  An extensive report on the status of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) water releases into the Valley was given by Don Zdeba, acting manager of the Indian Wells Valley Water District (IWVWD). The report was presented at the April 10 meeting of the IWVWD board. Zdeba stated, “We recognize that we are facing similar or likely more significant flooding conditions than we experienced in 2017. Last month, I reached out to LADWP about the possibility of releasing water from the aqueduct into the IWV, as they did when they declared an emergency in 2017. On March 17, 2023, LADWP did declare an emergency and concurred about the flooding damage to the Eastern Sierra communities and Owens Lake resulting from the rain and melting snow pack in the Sierras.

“There are five release points in the Indian Wells Valley. One is the Freeman Sluice Gate. Most of the releases are sand traps.

“A web meeting was arranged on March 23rd with the Stetson Engineer staff inspection engineers, the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority (IWVGA) manager, as well as Water District Consultant Tim Parker to discuss the monitoring program and to sample and track the releases.

“There are 22 monitoring points. We also had a web meeting with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) staff, Stetson staff, and the Water District staff to discuss the project, including how to put the water to beneficial use by replenishing the aquifer. We are also working with District’s consulting engineers, Kreiger, Stewart, and Tim Parker, to present a project involving possible catch basins and sand dams. We have been in contact with the BLM office, which expressed support of the work to commence as an emergency proposed location, except for the one in Dixie Wash. We need to move that one slightly north so all three locations will be on state land. The BLM has again indicated that they are willing to proceed with our emergency.

“We need to provide them with prepared access to do archaeological and biological surveys. The BLM also indicated they would allow the project to proceed and do NEPA afterward. We are going to be contacting Kern County as these are state lands. The Fish & Game and Wildlife Commission could require alternative permits. It was explained that the commissions would agree that this was an emergency and we could expedite things.

“LADWP started the water release from Freeman Sluice Gate on March 29th. Some of the others started on April 5th. They monitor the releases, adjust as necessary, and provide the required updates. I passed this information on to the Stetson staff. It has been mentioned that these releases could go through July and into August. This is a significant amount of water released into this basin.

“Hopefully, we will begin to move things forward. Ten cubic feet of water per second is a lot of water, about 4,500 gallons per minute.”

District Board Member Chuck Griffin stated, “This is like eight fire hydrants being wide open. That’s a lot of water being put out.”

Board Member David Saint-Armand noted that most of the water would not reach the aquifer. Due to the geology and climate of the IWV, much of the water will likely evaporate before it makes its way into the groundwater basin, which the water district pumps all of its water from. Still, Saint-Armand agreed it’s a significant amount of water worth diverting as much of it into the IWV as possible. He said the amount being released – if the water continues to be released at the rate it is being released, and at least as long as the LADWP believes it might be, it could be a significant fraction of the annual recharge.

Zdeba said, “It’s a rare sight to glimpse an actual stream running through the IWV desert. But this effort makes that sight possible for now. If you look, you will see the water flowing under Highway 14.”

Griffin said he had visited Grapevine and Sand Canyon and reported significant water flow.

Jean Morand of Stetson Engineers noted that water was entering the field and crossing Brown Road. Grapevine was flooding Arsenault Road down to Brown Road.

Board member Stan Rajtora asked Zdeba if he could give a feel for where the fault line is. “I’m assuming that the water crosses south of the fault, then goes around and goes north of the fault,” he said.

Rajtora also stated, “There still has been no audit from the GA from 2021. Also, there was no agenda item to adopt the new Communication and Engagement policy. Rajtora explained that this was one of the big things the Department of Water Resources  (DWR) had spelled out that the Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) was supposed to fix, and so far, nothing has happened. The Policy Action Committee (PAC) has spent much time trying to get that together.

Rajtora also mentioned that the GA has still not released its recycled water alternatives study report. “We paid for the study, and we paid for the report. It was supposed to be out six months ago and still has not been released. I think they need to release that report.” Rajtora asked the board if there was anything else that their staff could do to encourage that. Griffin, the representative for the District on the GA board, said, “They need to release it so this board can see it.”