Tri Valley really doesn’t like SGMA

By Deb Murphy

The state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act wasn’t designed for the idiosyncrasies of the Eastern Sierra. That was very obvious at Wednesday’s Tri Valley Groundwater Management District’s SGMA workshop.

But, given the district’s alternatives, by the end of the two hour session, the audience and district board seemed to lean toward forming a Groundwater Sustainability Agency but joining with Inyo County on the required planning process.

The alternatives: the 11 well owners in Tri Valley could foot the bill for a Groundwater Sustainability Plan running in the hundreds of thousands of dollars or face massive fines and fees imposed by the state Water Resources Control Board.

Tim Ross, an engineering geologist with the Department of Water Resources, was the unfortunate messenger at the workshop. As Ross unrolled the background and mechanics of the legislation, he was peppered with questions and frustration.

“How can you say the basins aren’t separate when you’ve got a well with a 20-foot level and three miles south (outside the district) is a well with a 100-foot level?” asked board member Dave Doonan in reference to the attempt at a boundary adjustment.

The district joined with Inyo in requesting the adjustment but was denied on the basis the separation was not supported by the scientific evidence.

Ross said the bar for adjustments based on science was very high; the alternative was a politically-based adjustment, or in Tri Valley’s case, the county line. Mono County Counsel Stacey Simon said her office was encouraged by DWR to go for the scientific justification.

Grant Swain asked for specifics in developing a plan. Ross’ response spoke to the fluidity of the whole process: “We’re working on that,” he said. Those details should be available in December.

“LADWP impacted the medium priority rating for the Owens Valley Basin by pumping,” said District 2 Mono County Supervisor Fred Stump, “but as an adjudicated basin, it’s not impacted.” Ross didn’t have an answer for that one.

The Owens Valley Basin was rated 13.8 based on priority criteria; 13.4 is the cut off between medium and low priority basins. Low priority basins are exempt from SGMA requirements as are adjudicated basins or portions of basins.

If Tri Valley opts out of an agency formation, Mono County would be next in line to assume that responsibility. The only impacted groundwater in Mono are portions of the Owens River basin. “Fiscally, we can’t do it,” said Stump. “We can’t even get EMS to this valley.”

Next alternative: develop a plan either as part of an Inyo County agency or as the Tri Valley agency. Ross pointed out the requirement to coordinate with other agencies within the basin would be easily done if one plan was developed with individual management areas.

“I think that’s the way to resolve your issues,” said Inyo Water Director Bob Harrington. “There is flexibility in SGMA.”

The one hopeful answer to the question “what are we supposed to do,” was “ask us for money.” The DWR is in its second round of Proposition 1 funding with $83 million available. “Those funds will focus on sustainability plans,” Ross said.

All eyes turned to Harrington. “We’d ask for the money,” he said.

The workshop in Chalfant was well attended in contract to workshops set up for Community Service Districts in Inyo County where Supervisor Dan Totheroh was the only attendee.


One Response to Tri Valley really doesn’t like SGMA

  1. Philip Anaya October 21, 2016 at 5:56 pm #

    It makes sense that there could be a single Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) in the Owens Basin which now will contain the Tri Valley Management District and the additional added area of Fish Slough (gotta love those pup fish). It also makes sense that a single Groundwater Sustainability Policy (GSP) with Individual Management Areas be developed .
    The adjudicated portions of the Owens Basin have this City ownership boundary that is in essence surrounded by the non adjudicated portions of the Basin. The rain and snow that fills the Owens Basin comes from the Sierras, the Whites and Inyos surrounding the Basin , groundwater passing under the non adjudicated areas and this city boundary into the adjudicated. There will be a required coordination between the adjudicated and the non adjudicated portions of the Basin. The development of this coordinated management between the adjudicated and non adjudicated will be the responsibility of the parties to the LTWA and the GSA which we are now considering and hopefully will not end up in the Courts. I would remind the parties of the LTWA that new adjudicated portions of Basins in California require the courts to apply the SGMA regulations to the court decision for those new adjudications. Maybe a new court adjudication for the City Lands coordinating groundwater management from non adjudicated to adjudicated areas just might include the 2042 Sustainability requirement for all of our medium priority Basin.
    Clearly Mono Supervisor Fred Stump is correct when he says “LADWP impacted the medium priority rating for the Owens Basin by pumping” (and he could also add and consider “and by surface flow management” to that statement) But maybe his idea that the adjudicated areas of the Basin are not impacted by SGNMA should be reconsidered. There is a link to SGMA regulations for surface flow benefitting or not benefiting the Aquifer and with great respect Mr. Stump knows all to well the impacts in Mono County such as Mono Lake and the Mammoth Township Water Supply, of LADWP management of surface flow. The beneficial runoff of all waters that reside as groundwater eventually in the Basin is considered in SGMA and SGMA can impact the adjudicated portions of the Owens Basin . Surface flow infiltrates and benefits the water table or not depending upon the management and the quality of concrete or metal containing the flow as an example Owens Gorge. Local stakeholders have the opportunity to create a GSP with our specific local needs and input, thus figuring out sustainable groundwater management in all of the Owens basin will be the task of the GSA.
    For this reason the GSA Owens Basin should included a voting membership for Tri Valley, for Mono County , Inyo County , A Tribal representative , The City of Bishop , A representative from all the Mutual Water Districts , A representative from Domestic Well Owners and maybe the inclusion of a non voting rep from LADWP might be considered.
    LADWP can be an important partner in the Owens Basin, if they would choose to become cooperative with stakeholders in the sustainable fashion . Adding the SGMA 2042 sustainability requirement for medium Priority Basins to the LTWA with Inyo County in a voluntary fashion would be a great example becoming cooperative with other Owens Valley Stakeholders and the eventual sustainable groundwater management in the Eastern Sierra.


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