By Deb Murphy

Quite a few analogies could describe what the newly-formed Owens Valley Groundwater Authority dealt with at their second meeting Thursday: chicken or the egg, rolling the dice or betting on the come. One representative got creative with a new analogy: it’s like watching sausage being made without knowing what sausage is supposed to look like.

Here’s the quandary: The approved budget calls for an estimated expenditure of $747,585 covering Inyo County’s administrative work but the majority going toward a consultant to develop a Groundwater Sustainability Plan.

Take that hefty figure, divide by the 11 agencies united by a Joint Powers Agreement. Divide again by the three years it will take to develop the plan. The total each agency can pay each year to hang onto four votes on the OVGA is $22,654, more than some of the smaller Community Service Districts’ annual budgets.

From there it gets more complex. Inyo County’s Water Department has been working on a grant application to the state’s Department of Water Resources to help fund the plan development. That help could cover half or almost all of the cost. Department head Bob Harrington told the authority the application should go to Sacramento within the next week. The result won’t be known until January but the 11 agencies have to determine their funding level and vote total ASAP to basically do business as a governing agency.

The situation became very real when members couldn’t even vote to accept the minutes of their October 5th meeting.

Swall Meadows’ rep Glen Inouye asked if the funding commitment could be delayed until the results of the grant application is known. Both Tri Valley’s Dave Doonan and Indian Creek’s Luis Elias are in the process of determining a fee increase to cover the cost, but that takes time Doonan pointed out.

Inyo’s Assistant County Counsel John Vallejo cited the group’s JPA. Funding levels will be determined at the meeting following approval of the budget. He also suggested the smaller CSD’s consider funding less than the $22,654 a year and taking a hit in the vote total. The maximum hit would reduce voting power from four to two.

As for the authority members with more resources, they were asked to determine their maximum funding commitment by the next meeting slated for November 9.

During public comment on the budget, Sally Manning questioned the size of the actual plan development budget—just less than $640,000. Harrington explained the tasks required and related costs were based on what the DWR requires in the finished plan and what other Groundwater Sustainability Agencies have determined those tasks will cost.

The bottom line: the Owens Valley Groundwater Authority, and all the other GSAs across the state, are exploring a new frontier, or making a whole new kind of sausage.

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