Inyo County Supervisors had a no-brainer at Tuesday’s Board meeting. The question:
what position should the Board’s representative take on Indian Wells Valley’s option to tap into
the Los Angeles Aqueduct to solve its critical overdraft problem?
The decision was a unanimous “no.”
Listening to John Vallejo, deputy county counsel, describe the situation begged the
question “what was Indian Wells thinking?”
Here’s the deal: Indian Wells Valley has to come up to a solution to its critical overdraft
this month in compliance with the Sustainable Groundwater Act. According to Vallejo’s figures,
the area that includes Ridgecrest, Naval Air Weapons Station at China Lake and a sliver of south
east Inyo (Trona and Pearsonville) has a natural recharge of approximately 7,650 acre-feet per
year but its average historic use is 25,776 a-f a year.
That’s not sustainable. “They’ve been in overdraft for decades,” Vallejo said. “It’s
impacting their water quality and there’s a potential for subsidence.”
It could get worse. Vallejo estimated the non-ag pumping out of the large aquifer is
roughly 11,000 a-f per year. That number includes a projected population growth.
One would think growth may not be such a great idea, but Supervisor Matt Kingsley,
Inyo’s rep on the valley’s Groundwater Sustainability Agency, referred to a newspaper headline
declaring Ridgecrest was “poised for growth.”
“They’re poised for composting toilets,” Kingsley said. “John (Vallejo) has pointed this
out, but it’s not getting through.”
So, if Indian Wells eliminates its pistachio groves and alfalfa fields, and maybe the base,
to get to that 11,000 a-f demand, where’s it going to get its 5,000 a-f a year goal? The Authority
has two plans for that.
Build a 50-mile pipeline to the California City area and tap into the State Water Project
at an estimated cost of $177 million, or
Stick a $55 million straw into LADWP’s Aqueduct
Supervisor Dan Totheroh opened the discussion with a question, what would Indian
Wells loose with an 11,000 a-f water diet? Kingsley put it succinctly: “They could get rid of Ag
and the Searles Valley Minerals operation and still be out of whack.” The impact to the area’s
economy would be substantial, Vallejo added.
A possibility not on Indian Wells Valley’s list was purchasing water from further north
and wheeling it through the aqueduct. Vallejo’s presentation included an e-mail from the
Authority’s general manager indicating LADWP would not “consider wheeling water through
the aqueduct and they also will not sell water.”
Inyo County doesn’t have veto power over the plan, per se, but it does have veto power
over any pumping in Inyo. Since the LA Aqueduct carries run-off and pumped water, and the
two sources are, obviously, indistinguishable, that veto should hold.
The Authority may be off the hook simply by meeting the deadline for over drafted
aquifers. Any actual import doesn’t have to start for another 10 to 15 years, but the plan has to
identify the source of the imported water.
During the public comment, Alan Bacock, water program coordinator for the Big Pine
Paiute Tribe, commented on the moral obligation to help one’s neighbor. But, he drew the line
at the Indian Wells plan. “We’ve seen issues with our own GSA’s struggle with no authority over
Los Angeles,” he said.