A previous Sheet headline read “No IRWMPs Allowed,” and no “wimps” were observed during Tuesday’s monthly meeting of Inyo-Mono Integrated Regional Watershed Management Plan (IRWMP) Group. You’d think it would be chaos with most of the 40 members either present or attending via teleconference, but with few exceptions, the meeting ran like clockwork, as the collective effectively tackled (on time) a packed, three-hour agenda.
In terms of where the effort now stands, the next steps include drafting the actual IRWMP plan, following guidelines established by the state’s Department of Water Resources (DWR) to assist local government and private entities in financing water-related programs and projects. Next steps for the Group include continuing its extensive outreach efforts to help build awareness of the IRWMP process and plunging itself into pursuit of a Prop. 84 Planning grant, with the objective of securing funding to complete the planning process. The application deadline is Sept. 28, and it will take a considerable group effort to have it ready in fairly short notice. A good planning grant, California Trout (CalTrout) Program Manager Mark Drew observed, will take a fair amount of time and resources to write.
Fiscal agency status is another issue still being deliberated. Any grant funding won’t, in all likelihood, be approved by DWR until early 2011, and won’t be disbursed until a few months later. CalTrout has served as the Planning Committee’s fiscal agency since the project’s inception, but whether this continues is yet to be decided by the group. Other entities may want to be considered for the service, though none in particular have yet been identified as potential candidates. Mono County Assistant Counsel Stacey Simon posited there might not be enough time to establish a new fiscal agent, and CalTrout may remain the default agent. In order to get the grant submitted by late September, whether to retain CalTrout on as the fiscal entity of record or find a replacement needs to be decided quickly. One meeting remains (Aug. 25) prior to the late September deadline to address the issue.
IRWMP’s Mono County representative, Tony Dublino, told the Planning Committee that Mono County’s Board of Supervisors has given its consent to proceed with applying for a planning grant, though he added it’s not entirely clear whether the County needs to see the final grant before it is submitted.
Members fielded ideas for criteria for ranking issues of importance and project proposals, as they were brought forward for funding consideration. A point system was one of the ideas discussed, as well as other suggestions gleaned from outreach meetings, and examples from other regions and organizations.
The group also discussed applying for a chunk of $27 million in Prop 84 project implementation funding grants. Disbursed in what is expected to be three rounds, the first round of funding will amount to about $3 million and a deadline for submitting the Inyo-Mono IRWMP Project Proposals is Jan. 7, 2011. Encompassing more than half of the Lahontan region, Inyo-Mono’s IRWMP will be competing with counterparts in Tahoe-Sierra, Antelope Valley and Mojave, which Drew pointed out is in “good shape” since it sits on the border of two funding regions. Prioritization and ranking will be key in all rounds, which according to the grant documentation has already forewarned applicants that “quality of programs” will be a factor.
Other regions’ methodology will also be looked at as the IRWMP assembles what will be its formal operational structure. A subcommittee will review state models and other IRWMPs to see how they are set up. They will also review fiscal agencies and organizational structures, including the pros and cons of registering Inyo-Mono’s IRWMP as a 501(c)3 nonprofit.
Center for Collaborative Policy’s Austin McInerny reported that several outreach meetings held in Bishop, Lone Pine, Big Pine, Round Valley, Crowley Lake, Walker, Bridgeport and Death Valley have yielded a “diverse mix” of landowners, community services members, tribes and county supervisors. Issues identified included aging infrastructure, water quality, prevalence of arsenic and the need for arsenic and uranium testing, emergency storage/supply of water (a big topic in Crowley), groundwater levels, fluctuation and landscape impacts, and stream bank stabilization.
Meanwhile, final revisions to the existing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that has guided the group since late 2008, now goes to the members and their respective boards and councils for approval, signatures and comments (if any). This version of the MOU has been circulating amongst the various members and governmental bodies on the Planning Committee for the past several months. The most recent change involved only a single word. The counties involved will weigh in on the current version of the MOU during their regularly scheduled August meetings. Should all signatories agree, the Planning Committee is expected to vote to formally adopt the MOU during its Aug. 25 meeting.
In terms of the Brown Act, Simon circulated a draft memo, which has previously been shared with the Inyo County Counsel’s office, indicating her take that the Brown Act doesn’t apply to the IRWMP. The IRWMP could, she added, conform to the provisions of the Brown Act on its own volition at any time. Members were not entirely in agreement with how or where further discussion/action on the Brown Act should happen. Some IRWMP members questioned adhering to the Brown Act if there’s no legal reason to do so, adding that conference call postings, and meetings that occur (in whole or as a participant) in a private residence were perceived as being intrusive. All IRWMP meetings thus far have been open and all relevant information, including meeting agendas and summaries, posted on its website, www.inyomonowater.org.
Others opined that language should be included in the MOU acknowledging that IRWMP has discussed and recognizes the potential importance of the Brown Act, and will continue to revisit the item as needed going forward. Still others thought it might be best to leave the MOU as written and take up the Brown Act as part of the ongoing work on the IRWMP bylaws, which are still being drafted.
Trying to dispel perceptions of ulterior motives, Drew said, “What [IRWMP] is trying to accomplish is to bring badly needed resources to the region to address expressed needs of participants themselves.” Drew went on to state that “the IRWMP project has nothing to do with impinging upon, influencing or otherwise, water rights whatsoever.” Given the history of water in the region, Brown Act or not, Drew indicated the group has no plans to change its open door policy on meetings. “Communication is critical,” he added.
More info on the Group or how to participate: contact Mark Drew, Inyo-Mono IRWMP Project Manager, 760.924.1008, or Holly Alpert, Inyo-Mono IRWMP Project Assistant, 760.709.2212.