By Deb Murphy

The Owens Valley Groundwater Authority got a wake-up call at last Thursday’s meeting.

Dave Doonan, Tri-Valley Groundwater Management District representative packaged it in a nutshell: “When we ‘direct staff,’ it’s going to cost us money.”

Inyo County Water Department Administrative Analyst Laura Piper presented the board with an updated budget report. The authority’s annual budget, through the 2020-21 fiscal year, totals $249,195 a year. To date, $49,147 has gone for staff costs with a projection of another $36,000 by the end the third on December 31.

At that rate, by the end of the fiscal year, half the Authority’s budget will be eaten up—before the Authority’s director is on staff and as the consultant ramps up work on the sustainability plan.

Inyo Water Department staff and John Vallejo, deputy county counsel, totaled $31,000 through six months. Mono County’s Wendy Sugimura, community development director, and Jason Canger, deputy county counsel, came in during the second quarter, in July, with a $16,700 billing from July to September. Dave Grah, Bishop’s public works director, submitted a modest $1,582 bill.

The realization that “direct staff” starts the meter running cast a pall over the rest of the meeting.

The bulk of the meeting again focused on bringing more organizations to the OVGA table.

Vallejo explained the enabling legislation, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, was amended to allow mutual water companies to join through a Memorandum of Understanding, but did not require mutuals be accepted. The over-riding issue with some OVGA members is increasing the 11-member voting board to an unwieldy size.

The solution arrived at last month was a letter to gauge interest before current members started freaking out over an over-sized board. That letter hasn’t gone out yet leading to a discussion as to whether the letter had to go out, chalking up more staff time, or simply a notice to interested parties that the application for participation was available.

Big Pine CSD’s Bryanna Vaughan wanted to see the letters mailed out. “They (the interested groups) already came to the dance,” she said, “and we sent them away. We need to reach out.”

Eventually, the board decided to publicize the availability of additional seats, then decide in January if the letter should be sent. With the complication of interested parties having to discuss participation at noticed meetings, the decision was made to have the deadline for application forms in late February with a board discussion in March.

Ken Toy, president of the Meadowcreek Mutual Water Company, has been waiting for more than a year to join the OVGA. He was okay with the timeline as long as mutuals got to the table by the time the sustainability plan was under development.

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