One large step for OVGA

By Deb Murphy

The 11 members of the Owens Valley Groundwater Authority committed to their financial contribution for the development of a groundwater sustainability plan. It took three meetings, three hours at Thursday’s session and additional wording added to the paperwork, but it got done.

The recent announcement of potential grant funding of $713,000 from the state Department of Water Resources made the decision easier, especially for the smaller water agencies for whom the $22,000-plus annual contribution was close to their entire annual budget.

The notice of the grant came through last Tuesday as a draft recommendation. In other words, it’s not written in stone.

Three of the 11 opted to be a non-funding member of the OVGA and settle on a voting power of two, compared to the four for full-funders.

Inyo County Water Department Director Bob Harrington had explained in the previous meetings that a state grant would reduce the required contributions. But it was never fully explained just how that would work. Would member agencies be reimbursed? How quickly? Would left-over contribution funds be rolled into the second and third years?

That was the source of angst leading to the additional wording. Dave Doonan, representing Tri-Valley Groundwater Management District really wanted some guarantee incorporated into the agreement the members were asked to sign. Glenn Inouye from Wheeler Crest Community Service District wanted something on reimbursement to take back to his board.

Mono and Inyo county counsels will be thrashing out the final wording for approval by OVGA temporary chair Fred Stump.

The details will have to be worked out as part of the authority’s by-laws.

The grant will be reimbursement-based. The authority sends in an “invoice” of monies spent and the DWR writes the check. According to Harrington, the money could start flowing in by fall at the earliest. In the meantime, requests for proposals for a plan consultant have to be developed and work on the plan begun.

Inyo County staff has done the work of forming the authority basically free of charge to the members. Future work will be reimbursed from the authority.

In addition, since this is a new concept, there’s no reference as to just how much will be required to maintain in the authority’s coffers through the three years of plan development.

While procedural issues will take some time to work out, the inclusion of agency reimbursement wording in the funding agreement made everybody happy.

The financial commitments shook out very much like they did at the December meeting. The Eastern Sierra, Keeler and Starlite CSD’s will be non-funders; Tri-Valley, Big Pine, Indian Creek, Sierra Highlands, and Wheeler will fully fund and Bishop, Inyo and Mono counties will divide the six votes ceded by the non-funders by picking up the financial slack.

There was some sense of relief this first hurdle had been overcome. Doonan pretty much shattered that relief when he said “This is the easy part. Now it’s going to get difficult.” The end-users from the 10 other agencies are primarily residential; Tri-Valley users are agricultural, as Doonan explained “our livelihoods are on the line.”

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