The City of Bishop, Mono and Inyo Counties form the Owens Valley Groundwater Authority to jointly tackle State groundwater compliance
As of this week, Mono County and the City of Bishop have both opted to join Inyo County as members of the newly-established Owens Valley Groundwater Authority ahead of the August 1 deadline for membership set by Inyo County. The board of the Tri-Valley Groundwater Management Authority (TVGMA), which is also eligible to join, will not have the opportunity to vote on the matter until its Wednesday, August 16 meeting. Not meeting the August 1 deadline means that Bishop, Inyo, and Mono Counties will get to vote on whether or not the Tri-Valleys are allowed to join the Owens Valley Groundwater Authority.
At the group’s July 18 meeting, the Mono County Board of Supervisors (BOS) voted 4-0 to sign a Joint Powers Agreement (JPA), crafted by the Inyo County Water Department, that outlines a process by which local agencies responsible for groundwater management can come together to form a single regional Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA), the Owens Valley Groundwater Authority. The purpose of forming this agency is to coordinate basin-wide efforts to comply with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. The Bishop City Council voted unanimously to join the same group at its Monday, July 24 meeting.
The local agencies are pressed for time—the California Department of Water Resources (CDWR) has announced that the entire region must be governed by one or more Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs) by January 31, 2022.
Up until the last two weeks, there had been much hesitation on the part of Mono County, the City of Bishop, and the Tri-Valley Groundwater Management District, three of four entities eligible to apply with the CDWR to be their own individual Sustainable Groundwater Agency, to sign the Joint Powers Agreement.
The previously mentioned entities have all expressed concern that the relationship between board members of the proposed Owens Valley Groundwater Authority and their constituents will be too diffuse to ensure accountability. The Mono County Board of Supervisors expressed frustration that Inyo County had imposed an August 1 deadline for agencies that wish to sign the Joint Powers Agreement. After that date, they must apply with existing members for admission. Additionally, the JPA crafted by Inyo County requires that all interested parties withdraw their pending individual applications with the Department of Water Resources for recognition as Sustainable Groundwater Agencies no later than thirty days after the new organization votes to finalize a budget for the creation of the Groundwater Sustainability Plan. Essentially, Inyo County asked Mono County, the City of Bishop, and the Tri-Valley Groundwater Management District to sign the agreement with the knowledge that the cost of doing so was not yet known.
At the July 18 meeting of the Mono County BOS, the board voted to join the Owens Valley Groundwater Authority, on the condition that the County not withdraw its application to be its own Groundwater Sustainability Agency.
On Monday, July 24, the City of Bishop followed suit, voting 5-0 to sign the Joint Powers Agreement with the understanding that the City can withdraw its membership until 30 days after the budget for the Groundwater Sustainability Plan is approved.
At Monday’s meeting of the Bishop City Council, Yaney MacIver of the Owens Valley Committee said to Council members, “If we don’t like what happens with the JPA, which has a lot of unelected representatives involved in it, how to we fire you? Hold you accountable?” Yaney also said the Owens Valley Committee, a local non-profit that advocates for local water rights in the Owens Valley, should have been invited to be part of the Owens Valley Groundwater Authority. Yaney pointed out that the Owens Valley Committee is a signing member of the Memorandum of Understanding with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power that currently governs groundwater use in parts of Inyo County.