By Deb Murphy
The tentative low priority status of the Owens Valley groundwater basin has only heightened the complexity of the Owens Valley Groundwater Authority’s meetings, not lowered them. The current nine board members opted to hold off on additional meetings until the state Department of Water Resources issues its final decision.
The delay will also give the members’ individual entities another chance to figure out if they want to proceed with a Groundwater Sustainability Plan and all the potential requirements of that plan. The snag in the delay is the deadline of January 31, 2022 when medium and above priority basins will have to have a plan in place.
At Thursday’s Owens Valley Groundwater Authority meeting, Aaron Steinwand, Inyo County’s Water Department director outlined the options ranging from disbanding the OVGA if the low priority was confirmed to proceeding with the plan, regardless of the final priority. Nobody disagreed with sustainability; the issue is the cost and regulations the plan could put in place.
In the meantime, Steinwand said much of the plan consultant’s work has been put on hold. The OVGA has paid DBS&A $102,000 for work done to date out of its existing member-funded monies. The state has forwarded reimbursement, but the OVGA is holding onto that check since it’ll have to go back to the state if the Authority disbands or fails to complete the plan.
Inyo Supervisor Dan Totheroh expressed concern kicking the can much further down the road would jeopardize the OVGA’s ability to meet the 2022 deadline, assuming it opted to keep going regardless of the basin’s priority.
John Camphouse with Sierra Highlands Community Service District and BryAnna Vaughn with the Big Pine CSD said their boards’ consensus was to continue.
Dave Doonan with TriValley Groundwater Management District wanted to wait for a final decision. Glen Inouye representing Wheeler Crest CSD with only 40 water hook-ups waffled. “We have a concern for the welfare of the basin,” he said. But with Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s exports not included in the plan, “we have to be realistic. There has to be substantial benefit for us.”
Indian Creek-Westridge CSD’s Louis Elias wanted to proceed with the plan “to handle what comes up in the future.”
Bishop’s Chris Costello wanted a chance to discuss with the City Council. Mono County Supervisor Fred Stump asked that Steinwand put together a workshop for the Mono Board. “I’m more interested in a thorough discussion,” he said, “not a hurried one.”
The basics of Steinwand’s presentation on if you do X, Y will happen: The whole basin has to be included in any final plan in order for Water Resources to approve it; Inyo and Mono County could remain as OVGA members without any of the other entities and develop a plan that would cover the basin, but Inyo cannot proceed alone since it has no authority over Tri-Valley or Wheeler Crest.