Owens Valley groundwater basin goes low

By Deb Murphy

California’s Department of Water Resources came out with its latest prioritization of state groundwater basins and, tentatively, the Owens Valley basin is now low. Over the short life of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, Owens Valley has gone from medium to high and now low priority.

That prioritization would have had an impact three years ago. Medium and high priority basins are required to form an agency and sustainability plan; low basins are not. The factor in the earlier ratings was water exports by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. LADWP’s portion of the basin is treated as adjudicated and not required to develop a plan.

So does that make a difference as the Owens Valley Groundwater Agency moves forward? According to Inyo Water Department Director Aaron Steinwand, not necessarily.

“Low priority basins are encouraged to prepare a GSP because a GSA with an adopted plan has all the powers granted by SGMA but without the threat of state intervention. The OVGA is already properly formed, our Prop. 1 grant to fund the plan is unaffected and we’ve already selected a consultant to work on the GSP,” Steinwand stated in an e-mail.

In Supervisor Jeff Griffiths report to the Bishop City Council, the new rating gives the OVGA more options.

Water Resources’ reprioritization isn’t set in stone yet. According to Steinwand, the comment period closes May 30 followed by another 30 days until it’s finalized.

The basin was initially rated as medium, then last summer it was tentatively bumped up to high. The OVGA board prepared a letter questioning the prioritization, initially requesting a shift to low.

After board discussion, the letter was edited, simply asking Water Resources to take another look at its decision. Apparently, WR did just that.

At that August meeting, the board seemed supportive of continuing with the development of a GSP if the basin was reprioritized as low, but no official vote was taken at that time.

Another complication to the SGMA process is linked to Water Resources Bulletin 118, the state’s official publication regarding basin conditions. While the Owens Valley basin may stay a low priority for now, Bulletin 118 is updated every five years and reprioritization is a constant possibility.



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