Report from OVGA meeting

By Deb Murphy

As if Fred Stump didn’t make his position on specific groups joining the Owens Valley Groundwater Authority board as voting members clear enough at last month’s meeting, the Mono County Supervisor doubled down Monday afternoon, objecting on ethical terms.

“This is an ethical issue,” he said at the end of a discussion on letters to be sent to potential associate members and interested parties in order to gauge interest. “I’m against votes for government agencies, businesses and special interest groups,” he said. “I want to take the decision on voting (privileges) back to our individual boards.”

He also mentioned he anticipated the two other water districts in Mono County, both of whom had their “dues” paid by the County, going along with his position.

His logic was simple: the current 11-member board is made up of elected board members on eligible agencies under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. “All these representatives are replaceable,” he said.

The Joint Powers Agreement that formed the structure of the OVGA calls for representation from state and federal agencies, for example California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, mutual water companies and environmental groups.

Ken Toy, president of the Meadowcreek Mutual Water Company, has been waiting for mutual to be included. He was not happy, noting SGMA was amended to allow mutuals to participate through a Memorandum of Understanding. Mary Roper with the Owens Valley Committee and a motherlode of information on water issues in Inyo County wasn’t happy either.

On the general topic of inclusion, the board had a range of input. Inyo Supervisor Dan Totheroh wants the board to be inclusive. Karen Schwartz, Bishop City Council chair, moved to stick with the current board configuration, but the motion didn’t get a second. Tri-Valley Groundwater Management District’s Dave Doonan noted inclusion was in the original JPA and the board should move forward. Louis Elias with Indian Creek-Westridge Community Service District leaned toward advisory groups as a vehicle for input but wanted to gauge interest for additional representation to “determine how to add seats.

Tribes should be exempt from funding or implementation,” said Wheeler Crest CSD’s Glenn Inouye, “but they should have a voice.”

The discussion at last month’s meeting focused on the potential for expanding the board up to 24 members. The voting structure would still put 70-percent of the weight with the original 11.

On the topic of hiring an executive director to manage the OVGA, the one guy with most of the answers, Bob Harrington, the soon-to-be retired Inyo County Water Department Director, had to recuse himself. He’s the obvious choice and while he wouldn’t say squat on that topic, the board seemed to assume he’d take the job.

Bishop’s Public Works Director Dave Grah suggested the next water department director take the job in the short term and the board recruit for the long term. Harrington did say that would present issues as the director could end up with a conflict between the Inyo Supervisors and the OVGA board.

Another tricky issue was who would write up the job description. Again, Harrington was the logical choice but how odd that he could be writing his own job description.

Inyo’s Assistant County Counsel John Vallejo suggested the board direct staff to open negotiations with Harrington. If that didn’t pan out, the next step would be to develop a Request for Proposals to hire a consulting firm to assume the responsibility.

 

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