Five years ago, public entities within the Owens Valley aquifer joined in on the development of a groundwater sustainability plan dictated by the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Act. It’s been a bumpy ride that seems to have ended with the majority of what became the Owens Valley Groundwater Agency pulling out once the coveted Groundwater Sustainability Plan was developed. As complex as that process was, the uncoupling of the OVGA is even more complex.

The exodus started when the groundwater basin was downgraded from medium to low priority
mid-stream in the process. Low priority basins pretty much don’t have to do anything, but the multi-county, multi-agency OVGA already had a $700,000 grant to develop the plan; so it did.

Development of the plan involved a lot of information gathering on the existing water table
levels, a task made somewhat easier within Inyo County due to the existence of the Water Department and its routine of evaluating the water table’s status. The one sticking point was the Tri-Valley Groundwater Management District, encompassing Chalfant, Benton and Hammil Valley. From Inyo’s perspective, the TVGMD was the toughest nut to crack. From Tri-Valley’s perspective, the wells supported agriculture. Since farmers and ranchers were dependent on a sustainable water system, they were the best care-takers of that resource. The major concern among environmentalists was Fish Slough and the endangered species of pup fish. The springs are feed by upward pressure of water from the deeper aquifer.

The last entity to leave the OVGA was Mono County, with an added twist. Mono Supervisors
opted to leave, effective in July, and to form their own GSA to oversee those parts of Tri-Valley not within the TVGMD as well as Long Valley. The inclusion of Long Valley was predicated on concerns Los Angeles Department of Water and Power may opt to drill wells in the area.
The loss of Mono County as part of the OVGA put Inyo County in the awkward position of having to oversee water in Mono County, over which it has no authority.

Aaron Steinwand, Inyo County Water Department head, went before the Inyo Board of
Supervisors last week looking for direction. The conclusion: redraw the OVGA’s boundary at the
Inyo/Mono county line and ask for coordination with Tri-Valley. It could be months before the
Department of Water Resources passes judgement on the plan.


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