By Deb Murphy
The state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act wasn’t designed for the idiosyncrasies of the Eastern Sierra. That was very obvious at Wednesday’s Tri Valley Groundwater Management District’s SGMA workshop.
But, given the district’s alternatives, by the end of the two hour session, the audience and district board seemed to lean toward forming a Groundwater Sustainability Agency but joining with Inyo County on the required planning process.
The alternatives: the 11 well owners in Tri Valley could foot the bill for a Groundwater Sustainability Plan running in the hundreds of thousands of dollars or face massive fines and fees imposed by the state Water Resources Control Board.
Tim Ross, an engineering geologist with the Department of Water Resources, was the unfortunate messenger at the workshop. As Ross unrolled the background and mechanics of the legislation, he was peppered with questions and frustration.
“How can you say the basins aren’t separate when you’ve got a well with a 20-foot level and three miles south (outside the district) is a well with a 100-foot level?” asked board member Dave Doonan in reference to the attempt at a boundary adjustment.
The district joined with Inyo in requesting the adjustment but was denied on the basis the separation was not supported by the scientific evidence.
Ross said the bar for adjustments based on science was very high; the alternative was a politically-based adjustment, or in Tri Valley’s case, the county line. Mono County Counsel Stacey Simon said her office was encouraged by DWR to go for the scientific justification.
Grant Swain asked for specifics in developing a plan. Ross’ response spoke to the fluidity of the whole process: “We’re working on that,” he said. Those details should be available in December.
“LADWP impacted the medium priority rating for the Owens Valley Basin by pumping,” said District 2 Mono County Supervisor Fred Stump, “but as an adjudicated basin, it’s not impacted.” Ross didn’t have an answer for that one.
The Owens Valley Basin was rated 13.8 based on priority criteria; 13.4 is the cut off between medium and low priority basins. Low priority basins are exempt from SGMA requirements as are adjudicated basins or portions of basins.
If Tri Valley opts out of an agency formation, Mono County would be next in line to assume that responsibility. The only impacted groundwater in Mono are portions of the Owens River basin. “Fiscally, we can’t do it,” said Stump. “We can’t even get EMS to this valley.”
Next alternative: develop a plan either as part of an Inyo County agency or as the Tri Valley agency. Ross pointed out the requirement to coordinate with other agencies within the basin would be easily done if one plan was developed with individual management areas.
“I think that’s the way to resolve your issues,” said Inyo Water Director Bob Harrington. “There is flexibility in SGMA.”
The one hopeful answer to the question “what are we supposed to do,” was “ask us for money.” The DWR is in its second round of Proposition 1 funding with $83 million available. “Those funds will focus on sustainability plans,” Ross said.
All eyes turned to Harrington. “We’d ask for the money,” he said.
The workshop in Chalfant was well attended in contract to workshops set up for Community Service Districts in Inyo County where Supervisor Dan Totheroh was the only attendee.