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A Groundwater Authority is bankrupting farmers while the courts and State idly watch


Lacking transparency and mired in financial mismanagement, the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority continues to abuse the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).


For almost a decade, the Authority has been hiding behind a “confidentiality agreement” with the United States Navy to deny the public documents that support its Groundwater Sustainable Plan (GSP). The Authority has refused to open their books or produce solid data. It has misused public funds, not listened to reliable counsel, and ultimately and intentionally has used SGMA to pick winners and losers in the Valley.


The Authority has not hidden however, their intention of pushing agriculture out of the Valley. By imposing an absurd replenishment fee of $2,130 per acre foot, their intent is obviously to bankrupt existing agricultural operations. It is a taking of private property via exorbitant fees that cannot be absorbed in business operations.


The Authority’s list of “wrongdoing” has now expanded further, as it has become evident that the modeling used for their Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) is not an accurate assessment of the basin’s sustainability.


 

Touting a sustainable yield of 7,650 acre-feet per year, in 2021 the Authority’s GSP allocated ZERO native groundwater to Mojave Pistachios and very little to other farmers.


The Authority then implemented the outrageous “replenishment” fee of $2,130/acre-foot to keep Mojave’s 1,600 acres of trees alive and bearing fruit.

 

California’s Department of Water Resources signed off on this GSP that appears to be predicated on a faulty study of the basin, paid for by the Navy.


Missing from the Authority’s analysis was a fair consideration of the massive groundwater Basin and the total volume of freshwater that is in storage. With millions of acre-feet of freshwater that is readily available for recovery, the Authority’s plan to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to build a pipeline through the desert is revealed to be completely unnecessary. The new analysis reveals dramatically different findings than what the Authority published and that which it based the fee upon.


First, there is substantially more water in the basin than the Authority wants to

admit, more than 40M acre feet of water – twice the size of Lake Mead when its

full. That’s more than 13 trillion gallons. A stark contrast to the 1.75 million AF

estimated in the Authority’s GSP.


The new estimate was conducted by a group of experts from six professional hydrogeological science and engineering consulting firms. The firms were appointed by a consortium of municipal, agricultural, and industrial users who collectively accounted for more than 80% of the groundwater pumping during the 2022 Water year.


The analysis also estimates approximately 40 million acre-feet of potable groundwater remaining in storage within the Indian Wells Valley.


These new findings raise significant questions about the management of the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Basin. The Authority’s pattern of behavior that suggests they are using poor science to advance an adversarial agenda against agriculture and private industry. Further, they sometimes analyzed only smaller portions of the valley and were limited by the technology available at the time.


The data used for their groundwater model is dated and its accuracy in doubt. And to date, they have refused to make their model available to the public or allow others to peer review its accuracy.


With Mojave Pistachios and other agricultural operations facing destruction in a matter of weeks for lack of water, DWR must immediately step and ask more exacting questions of the Authority and its’ reliance on an – as yet – undisclosed model in to revisit their approval of this haphazard GSP that is punishing agriculture and industry and demonstrating that SGMA can be manipulated and bent to the will of a 2-1 majority.


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