By Deb Murphy
The Tri-Valley Groundwater Management District’s Wednesday meeting agenda included approval for the formation of a Groundwater Sustainability Agency. But that decision and an official public hearing was postponed until early March, giving the board time to get more clarification following a public outreach meeting hosted by Inyo County held on January 12.
Sixteen public entities, including Inyo and Mono counties, showed up for the first outreach session on the Sustainable Groundwater Act requirements with a goal to form some sort of consensus on who and how the Owens River water basin should comply with the state regulations.
For Tri-Valley representatives, the meeting must have been a case of which one of these isn’t like the others. Tri-Valley, Chalfant, Hammil and Benton, has been wrestling with SGMA since its passage in 2014.
The population is relatively small but the acreage in alfalfa isn’t, coming in at ten times the acreage in Inyo County impacted by the legislation.
That part of the basin under Los Angeles Department of Water and Power lands is exempt from the act as an adjudicated basin under the Long Term Water Agreement. The balance of the agencies at the outreach meeting were at the start of the SGMA learning curve; Tri-Valley residents and board members at Wednesday’s board meeting were well versed in the complexity of the act.
At the start of Wednesday’s public hearing, Board member and Mono County Supervisor Fred Stump suggested holding off on the decision until the district could get more clarity on statements made at the outreach. Inyo’s Chief Administrative Officer Kevin Carunchio had suggested a Joint Power Agreement among the water providers with one Groundwater Sustainability Plan. If Tri-Valley wanted to be their own agency, they could do their own plan.
In a world where money grew on trees, that would be ideal for the valley residents. But, according to Tim Ross, an engineering geologist with the Department of Water Resources, a plan to reach sustainability by 2022 could run from hundreds of thousands to a cool million. The assumption expressed at the outreach meeting was Water Resources probably wouldn’t fund more than one plan for the basin. Plus, the state department requires collaboration and cooperation among all the agencies tapping into the same basin.
In an e-mail, Carunchio explained his statement: “There are a lot of different ways to lawfully configure this, both relative to GSAs and plans. Both GSA formation and/or GSP development really get in the details of governance and decision making and funding. Those conversations have not happened yet, and my point was that no entity should assume how this looks in the end until the details get worked…. To be clear, I am not opposed to Tri Valley forming its own GSA, and I certainly recognize Tri Valley’s legal right to do so. There are a lot of things that really make sense about this. I’m just saying not to assume that will result in 1 GSP when issues of staffing, funding, plan approval need to get worked out…. There are so many details like this to be worked out in a short amount of time. I hope we can do it and I am certain that our success will depend on everyone working together – either through one GSA, and one GSP, multiple GSAs and one plan, or multiple GSAs and multiple plans.”
Inyo Water Department Director Bob Harrington and Mono County Council Counsel Stacey Simon explained the advantages of a JPA, the track taken by the parties involved in the Indian Wells basin. First, it’s less complicated than a Memorandum of Understanding. Simon used the example of the Eastern Sierra Transit Authority, a stand-alone agency with representations from Mono and Inyo counties as well as Bishop and Mammoth Lakes.
SGMA allows for management areas within a GSP, allowing Tri-Valley to craft plan details to meet its needs.
At the end of Wednesday’s public hearing, Simon suggested Tri-Valley go ahead with the paperwork necessary to form its own agency, then make the final decision following more conversations with county representatives.