By Deb Murphy

The nine representatives from Inyo and Mono county public entities eligible to form Groundwater Sustainability Agencies all had one thing in common: they knew they were treading new ground and the meeting of Owens Valley Groundwater Authority held Thursday was the first step.

The meeting was held at the Bishop Volunteer Fire Department’s training center on East Line; the attendance was close to standing-room-only.

The nine reps weren’t exactly dragged to the meeting kicking and screaming, but almost.

The Authority is made up of 11 agencies bound together with a Joint Powers Agreement with the goal to achieve a sustainability plan for the Owens River groundwater basin under California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

Most would agree sustainable groundwater basins are a good thing. Before California joined the ranks, 49 other states already had some form of management on the books. But for Dave Doonan, the rep from the Tri-Valley Groundwater Management District, the legislation threatens the livelihood of Hammil, Benton and Chalfant farmers. For Big Pine Community Service District president BryAnna Vaughan, the bottom line of the final plan could include additional fees for her constituents.

Despite the trepidation of the authority board, those first steps were taken. Fred Stump, Mono County Supervisor, was elected as interim chair, meetings were set through the end of the year and the concerns over the JPA would be discussed at the October 26 session.

The issue of the JPA was brought up by Vaughan. The document defining the scope of the Authority as well as funding options was drawn up by Inyo County and signed by the 11 participating agencies. Vaughan’s issues focused on questions and changes she had wanted to see included between the first and final draft. Her questions related to costs and a perceived dominance of the Authority by either or both of the two counties were not included in the final document.

Stump took a poll of the board. Most of the members had few questions or concerns regarding the document but all agreed a review and discussion was a good idea. As Stump put it, “it’s beneficial for the group to come together. This board needs its own sense of cohesion.”

Inyo’s Water Department Director Bob Harrington presented a list of items to be addressed quickly by the board:

  • Approval of the three-year $700,000 budget to develop the Groundwater Sustainability Plan
  • Application for a state Department of Water Resources grant that could fund half or more of that budget. Harrington explained the grants require a 50-percent match from agencies, but waivers of all or some of that match were available dependent on the economic resources of the agency.
  • The need of each entity to choose a funding level. The JPA set up a system where agencies could opt out of any contribution with a reduction from four to two votes. The balance of the payments could then be picked up by other entities with a bump in their voting power.

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