WATER WARS! Groundwater Authority Un-muted F-Bomb, Mayor Bruen Reacts, ‘Tis the Season for Apologies

The Water War Narrative Continues:

“Did The Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority Just Blow Itself Up in a Fiery Mushroom Cloud?”

December 11, 2021

Indian Wells Valley, California

It’s been a very challenging year for all of us. I started writing this newsblog in May of 2020 during the lockdown. It wasn’t a planned project but an impulsive response to media censorship and threats to our freedom of speech. I may keep writing, but have other plans and will keep it alive until such time as my other pursuits will allow.

My passion over issues such as water and economic development didn’t just happen overnight. As a kid, I learned that you could drill a hole in the ground in the middle of the Mojave Desert and find water. Fifty years ago, I explored the Coso Canyon Petroglyphs for a high school project and created a slide show with real Kodak slides and a story board. The wild burros would dig deep holes in the canyon wash to find water!

The only path to success was to work together

Having lived for 30 years in Arizona, I became versed in land use and water rights law and witnessed first-hand what a plentiful supply of low-cost water can do to stimulate growth and economic development. It was a canal project that brought Colorado River water to central Arizona and the project was aptly named the Central Arizona Project: “The 336-mile CAP system took 20 years to build, cost $4 billion, and is an engineering marvel that has contributed dramatically to our quality of life and the sustainability of the state’s water supply”

Downtown Phoenix view northeast

We’ll never see anything like it again. Phoenix and Las Vegas were the last hurrah growth-wise. The river is now a source of water for over 40 million people. The Phoenix metro area now holds 4,584,000 residents and Las Vegas has 2,772,000. The seven state compact that started it all didn’t come easy.

For the first time in 100 years, the federal government has declared a shortage for the Colorado River: “Balancing the interests of different stakeholders is tricky” said John Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority. He cited several occasions since the turn of the millennium in which tense negotiations eventually found collaborative conclusions. “Every one of those agreements was always on the brink of collapse because of adversarial animosity,” he said, “Right up until we all figured out that the only path to success was to work together.”

What happened at the GA meeting?

When it comes to the implementing the new State law called SGMA, there are bound to be serious conflicts that arise along the way, attorneys are needed, and people can get angry. Maybe an F-bomb happens and then BOOM! Relationships are broken and jobs are lost. It ain’t pretty, but it’s nothing compared to the Owen’s Valley Water War of the 1920’s.

Let’s just say there were a few somewhat heated back and forths during the meeting, and an accidental “F-bomb” exploded from an un-muted Webex caller who is apparently a staff member. The perpetrator probably feels like dog shit and should apologize. But who am I to say? Unfortunately, Boobus Remarkus couldn’t have popped his mouth at a worse time and forgot that he wasn’t watching a football game. It was par for the course in a meeting that saw the City of Ridgecrest, Inyo County and Kern County gang up on the Water District to vote the District’s representative off the chair rotation next year!

It didn’t look good for anybody, and Mayor Eric Bruen was quick to respond as follows:

“Their Webex is not recorded and from the video we have been unable to determine who told Mr. Rajtora to ‘F-Off’. Such language is not appropriate in a public meeting and we encourage the individual to reach out and apologize to Mr. Rajtora.”

Mayor Eric Bruen, City of Ridgecrest

The City and the Water District haven’t been on the best of terms to say the least. Mayor Bruen is certainly enthusiastic about prospects for the upcoming new year, and he assures us that the Water District and the City are meeting regularly and making good progress. He agrees that none of Wednesday’s meeting looked good. So if there’s progress, I’m relieved to see the Mayor acting quickly to defuse any stinkbombs and think some good news might be coming in the new year. This should be welcome news to water district customers and everyone with property rights, including mining, agriculture and small-well owners. And how much fun are we having with the war and sports metaphors?! Alas, it may not continue forever, the War that is.

‘Tis the season for apologies…

Before going back to battle stations, your humble writer has decided to join F-Bomb dude by making some apologies. Writing poses a challenge for me because it’s easy to fall into the trap of being un-civil online. In many cases, the targets of my keyboard are sprinkled with gross generalizations about politicians, attorneys and government. I’m guilty on multiple counts and am trying to kick the habit, but there are so many opportunities out there in political realm I feel it’s my patriotic duty not to stop. I also have an edgy sense of humor but sometimes I cross the line. Me and Boobus have some work to do and some apologies to make, and his mistake is my opportunity to make amends:

I would like to apologize to the entire Ridgecrest City Council. I’m not happy about the GA and the City’s current plan to borrow money, and I was rude and disrepectful to Mayor Bruen and Councilman Blades at a recent water district meeting. Both of them were calm and professional. I was not.

I would also like to apologize to Mr. Phillip Hall, the Kern County attorney who’s been working on the GA since day one. I bet he’s seen it all and I’m not helping. I know he’s doing a job that’s incredibly difficult.

The Great Water War of the 1920’s, Owens Valley, Inyo County California

The Indian Wells Valley is very unique geologically speaking, and the IWV’s watershed boundary includes Rose Valley and Coso Geothermal. Most of our recharge water flows from the north near the Haiwee reservoir and the east side of the Sierra Nevada. The Indian Wells Valley and Rose Valley are adjacent to and sub-basins of the historic Owens Valley basin. For maps and more information, please see “Coso Geothermal in Play with Just the Facts”.

For more information on Owens Valley’s and a cronology of key events see here, and for a documentary on the great Water War of the 1920’s there’s a four-part series that tells the amazing story behind the Los Angeles Aqueduct:

Cadillac Desert, Water and the Transforming of Nature (PBS via IMDb)
Cadillac Desert is a story of the earliest settlers, lured by the promise of paradise,
and of the ruthless tactics employed by Los Angeles politicians and business interests to ensure the city’s growth. 

In Other Water News…

On the wet side of the Sierra Nevada, the San Joaquin Valley is in a serious crisis, and next year and the allotments from the State’s water project will be zero. Is now the time to be buying junior allocations from the State’s water market? In addition, DWR just warned SIX San Joaquin Valley groundwater agencies that their plans aren’t up to snuff (via SJVWater.org):

Six subbasins covering nearly all of  the central and southern San Joaquin Valley do not have adequate groundwater plans, according to letters sent Thursday by the Department of Water Resources to groundwater agencies within those subbasins. Subbasins with plans not likely to pass muster include the Delta-Mendota, Kaweah, Kern County, Kings, Tulare Lake and Tule.

DWR has it’s hands full but recognizes both the importance of this basin to the Navy as well as its geographic complexities. Will the IWVGA will take advantage DWR’s offer to facilitate a sustainable plan for the Indian Wells Valley? The GA may have to and we’ll find out soon if the GSP fails.

Did the Groundwater Authority Really Nuke Itself?!

Nope, we’ve got water and the Groundwater Authority didn’t blow itself up. Mayor Bruen gets my kudos for making a statement in support of apologies and progress, but the Indian Wells Valley Water War continues and it could last for many months or years.

The public comments at the GA meeting were all thoughtful and compelling. Notable quotes are time-stamped with the video at the bottom of the page. Finally, finally, here’s my Christmas letter to Mr. Santa Claus:

Dear Santa, I don’t blame you if I get a lump of coal in my stocking, but if you could find a way to send a gift to my new friends, I believe they would appreciate a regionally self-contained management area and a sustainable groundwater basin defined by our watershed boundary, and please don’t forget about Coso Geothermal!

Merry Christmas to all!

Mike Sinnott, Publisher

My New Friends

My question, does anyone know where City Manager Ron Strand is? He’s gotta be somewhere. When can we see some pics of the new cruisers?

IWVGA Meeting, 12/8/2021 (Links below open in a new tab)
December 8, 2021 IWVGA Meeting Package (pdf)
14:36Comment by Nick Panzer: The DWR should facilitate. See SGMA 10720.1(b) “Undesirable results”
16:45Comment by Judy Decker PAC member: Board Package is insufficient re: projects. Board decisionmaking.
20:30Item 4: Director Stan Rajtora re: 2020 and 2021 Annual Water Report.
24:15 Item 5: Steve Johnson re: Water Resources Managment Report
52:20Director Stan Rajtora questions re: Wastewater Recycle Project “Recycled water is critical”. Annual Report Review.
58:30Comments Joshua Nugent: Wastewater Cost Analysis. Prop 218 is required for appropriate GA funding
59:55Comments by Joshua Nugent: Re Navy July 20, 2020 Cmdr Benson Federal Reserve Water Rights Alloc.
Keith Lemieux, Counsel: Great source of frustration that Navy did not give a FRWR number
Comments by Wes Katzenstein PAC member: Re: Shallow well mitigation, letter sent to board, urgency
1:08:00Comment by Judy Decker: Concerns re: GA members on PAC, overlapping govt authority, overstepping bounds, water district s/b purveyor, asks Board to work with Water District. Urgency on mitigation.
1:14:00 Comment by Renee Westaluk, response by Phill Hall re mitigation issues, well failure, plumbing pressure loss, Comment by Don Decker, TAC member/Well Owners re: mitigation-urgency
1:26:35Item 6: Carol Thomas-Keefer: Approval of Regional Government Services managment agreement
Director Stan Rajtora Questions re: Increase in administrative costs and objection to “blank check”
Director Scott Hayman re: Characterization of “blank” check.
Webex-online unknown staff: “Oh f*ck you”
Comments by Joshua Nugent re: Extraction fee authority $1.5 milion. $1.2 million spent plus budgeted $1 million in 2022 exceeds maximum legally allowed under ord. 2-20 amended by ord. 5-20
Comments by Don Decker re: Lack of a “POAM” linking projects with financial plan. Submits that nobody “actually knows what is happening”.
1:45:40Comments by Wes Katzenstein “Who really owns the problem of scheduling”. Need something like a GAANT chart and a schedule with cost estimates. Steve Johnson responds. Start of GAANT sent to PAC.
1:49:45Comments by Judy Decker: “Who decides what tasks need to be done to get where you want to be?”, when this first started, “Cmdr Longbottom insisted on a POAM”
1:53:37Item 7: Jeff Simonetti, Michael McKinney, Capitol Core Group re 2020 and 2021 proposed scope of work. Hoped for program amendment in NDAA failed, DCIP funding rolled over to 2023 NDAA.
Comment by Joshua Nugent: DWR announcement re: zero 2022 allocations. Replenishment fee. Junior water rights are left out, still pay the costs. Use brackish water, recycled water in lieu of State water.
Response by Phill Hall, Kern County: Imported water to be used in wet years to replenish
2:13:44Item 8: 2022 Board Chairman position rotation. Presented by Keith Lemieux, GA Counsel. Statement by Director Rajtora. Comments by Board members. Resolution to remove IWVWD from 2022 Board chair position on Jan. 1, 2021 approved 3 Ayes (City, Kern, Inyo) 2 No (IWVWD, San Bernardino County).
2:29:00Comment by Joshua Nugent: Lack of decorum was a staff member, a legal counsel or someone who was on the staff call” DWR letter to Stakeholders offering mediation. Portion of DWR letter read.
Comment by John “Skip” Gorman: “Dismayed to hear the profanity”. Gave opportunity for apology. “We’re well served” by Mr. Rajtora. “Many support him, it’s easy to see who doesn’t”
Comment by Judy Decker: Support for the water district. Growth is at expense of those living here. Why is GA dealing with the City of Ridgecrest on the Wastewater Treatment Facility.
“Comments by Board members were very disappointing”.
Comment by Rene Westalusk: “Worried about legal consequences”. Supports removal of water district.
2:39:21Resolution to remove IWVWD from 2022 Board chair position on Jan. 1, 2021 approved 3 Ayes (City, Kern, Inyo) 2 No (IWVWD, San Bernardino County).
2:39:48Item 9: Update from Wulff Hansen on bond progress. Informational, no board action. Documents will be submitted in January or February. Introduction of underwriter.
Comment by Joshua Nugent: Questions regarding the GA’s 5 year fee structure matched to term of bonds.
2:48:47Items 10 (GM Report), 11 (PAC/TAC Reports), 12 (Closing comments)
IWVGA Meeting Video. December 8, 2021
Coso Geothermal In Play With Just the Facts