GSA formation moves forward, slowly

By Deb Murphy

Representatives from water agencies tapping into the Owens River groundwater basin gathered last Thursday for a second workshop on California’s mandate to achieve groundwater sustainability. The two biggest questions, however, remain unanswered: what role can the 12 private mutual water companies play in the formation of a Groundwater Sustainability Agency and is the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power an eligible local agency with the ability to form a GSA for its portion of the basin?

The answers to both will be determined in Sacramento. In the meantime, Inyo County will proceed with its GSA application to the Department of Water Resources; the City of Bishop and Tri-Valley Groundwater Management District will be making their decisions this week. Valley water agencies have until June 30 to log their intent, but can still opt to form a single, or multiple GSA. The legislation requires an eligible agency to step forward by the deadline or the Water Resources Control Board steps in.

Just a brief description of the task ahead is complicated, actually doing it is even more so.

The County approved a framework, outlining the options, steps and desired outcome, last month. That framework could have simplified the process, but for mutual water companies who want a seat at the table, it just made the process more complex. The hang-up: eligible local agencies able to form a GSA are defined in the law as public agencies; mutuals are privately held. Public agencies can form Joint Powers Authorities, melding multiple agencies into one GSA but mutual can’t be included in the JPA.

The solution within the framework included alternative vehicles to give mutuals a seat at the table once the JPA was formed. But, mutuals want in at the beginning of the process and are hoping clean-up legislation to SGMA will give them that opportunity.

Why not just get the job done with a single MOU including both public agencies and mutuals? According to County Water Department Director, the GSA’s formation through a JPA would create an independent, stand-alone entity with more abilities than an MOU.

Some agencies represented at the meeting questioned whether the framework’s feet were sealed in concrete or if the framework could be modified.

Other groups asking to be included as voting members in the GSA are the Sierra Club and the Owens Valley Committee. Nancy Masters made the argument that all the other 1997 Memorandum of Understanding partners were included as voting privileges.

LADWP’s Greg Loveland told the group the department was considering its options. “Our preference is to participate with the County, but we don’t like the price tag.” That price tag would require LADWP to pay 25-percent of the cost of developing the Groundwater Sustainability Plan but limited to four votes.

The County’s stance seemed to be all the sticky details on implementing a GSP could be worked out once the decision was made on the GSA. The important thing was to get the GSA solidified and apply for grant funding to develop the plan.

If all the entities can get together, the plan should be a breeze.

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