Sierra Wave Media

Eastern Sierra News for June 13, 2024





By Deb Murphy

“Fast paced” and “Owens Valley Groundwater Authority meeting” have never appeared in the same sentence in the year-and-a-half since the Authority was formed. But, Thursday’s session was different, in large part due to the hours of wrangling, discussion and closed sessions that preceded it.

The board members approved agreements with entities’ staff and consulting services from Bob Harrington. In addition, hold onto your hats, the board came to a consensus on how to allow additional board seats. The final vote will come at its May 23 meeting. So, it’s not a done deal, but it’s very close.

Chair Fred Stump described the staff report to determine additional seats on the board as a “structured way to poll” the board. Mono County’s Community Development Director Wendy Sugimura came up with a report that clearly defined options for each category of Associate and Interested Party applicants.

Each applicant pled their case; there was little discussion and the board members voted on their preference of options that ranged from maximum seat potential to “determine the public engagement plan is sufficient to provide input.”

It helped that the Authority wasn’t bombarded with participation applications.

April Zrelak was first up representing the Lone Pine Paiute-Shoshone Reservation, the only Tribe applying for a seat. The Lone Pine Tribe wanted Associate standing but with the caveat that it would not have to implement the final Groundwater Sustainability Plan. She based her argument on a clause in the enabling Joint Powers Agreement that allowed for flexibility in status. The polling ended up torn between an Associate seat with mandatory implementation and a seat without the mandate.

“We’ll do more work on this,” said the newly-named OVGA executive manager Aaron Steinwand.

Two mutual water companies, Meadow Creek and Wilson Circle, applied for Associate status. The Board voted to seat one to represent both mutuals.

The State Lands Commission, official owner of Owens Lake, and the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District both applied as Interested Parties. The weighted vote (current board member votes are weighted depending on financial contribution) would put both agencies on a future advisory committee.

Mary Roper made her case for the Owens Valley Committee based on the organization’s 36-year history of groundwater and land management issues. Sierra Club opted out of participation. The Board chose to seat one seat on the board—the OVC.

A poll of the board gave Crystal Geyser a seat on a future advisory committee.

The May meeting vote will finalize the board.