Supes make regionals with water plan
Did proponents of Inyo-Mono’s Integrated Regional Water Management Plan (IRWMP) get inside the key and hit three-pointers to advance to the Final Four, or did Mono County Supervisors simply succumb to their own form of March Madness?
Earlier this year, Mono Supervisors debated approval of a 2008 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with IRWMP. At the time, supervisors were reticent, unsure of whether and how the MOU might compromise the County’s ability to regulate water under its jurisdiction. With a revised MOU currently being drafted, IRWMP went before the Board again this past Tuesday. IRWMP’s strategy? The full-court press.
Last year, the state’s Department of Water Resources approved the formation of IRWMPs, non-regulatory collectives, to “encourage regional strategies for management of water resources … investigate a broad spectrum of management strategies, identify the benefits of integrating water management strategies, and identify priorities for implementing projects and program.”
According to its website, the Inyo-Mono IRWMP is comprised of some 30 public, private and not-for-profit entities in the two counties, as well as stakeholders in northern San Bernardino and Kern counties. Two committees govern the IRWMP: a Planning Committee, the decision-making body, which includes representatives from all entities participating in the process, and a Coordinating Committee that serves as management, proposing policies, recommendations and drafts to the larger Planning Committee. San Bernardino and Kern have been asked to sign on, but haven’t responded yet at the County level, said Project Coordinator Holly Alpert.
The IRWMP plan covers a broad swath, including “water supply, quality, habitat and environment, recreation and land use.” Several million grant dollars have been allocated for IRWMPs by the state through Props. 50 and 84. Grants are awarded through the DWR. “IRWMP can help attract state and other funding to fund regional projects,” according the website.
Alpert pointed out that CalTrout is the fiscal sponsor and responsible for accounting and auditing, alleviating Board concerns about having a large, multi-agency group that has no central person responsible for monetary oversight.
IRWMP has a somewhat checkered history with the Board, which from the outset pondered whether it was helpful, or just added another layer of bureaucracy. IRWMP organizers assured the County it would have a greater voice being part of the process. Supervisor Hap Hazard, who has had problems with IRWMP almost from its inception, said he appreciates that, but still has major concerns.
“We already have California Environmental Quality Act requirements, Lahontan to deal with, not to mention our own water ordinances … now we have to get a project approved through you guys, too?” Hazard asked. “Basically I was told, ‘If you don’t sign up with us, you don’t have access to the $27 million we have control over.’ Let me get this straight: if I want to have access to $27 million in voter-approved funds, I have to go through them to get it? That sounds a lot like extortion.”
In fairness, IRWMP doesn’t control all funding made available through the propositions. Prop 84 did, however, mandate a certain amount of money for application at the local level.
Hazard said he’s still not sure if IRWMP is a good or bad thing, but has “serious questions” with the organization at the structural level that he maintains have not been adequately answered. First, he contends there are certain groups with seats at the table that equal votes on projects, which should have no business voting on water projects. Inyo-Mono Advocates for Community Action (IMACA) and the Mono Lake Committee, for instance, aren’t water agencies or water rights holders, and while he has no problem with them being part of the discussions, Hazard objects to them having equal votes at Mono County on water projects, be they in his district or anywhere else in the county.
He took that point further, pointing out that those same stakeholder groups in San Bernardino and Kern counties are in the Inyo-Mono IRWMP. “Inyo County I can rationalize, since that’s at least in our neck of the woods,” he said. “I would love someone to explain to me why these special interest groups in distant counties are allowed to have any say in what happens within our own County.” Hazard also has problems with IRWMP having a presence in Forest Service territory, where he thinks the Forest Service alone should be the lead agency.
Research indicates that recent state bills, the new landscaping ordinance mandates being just one, have the potential to put the state in the driver’s seat when it comes to groundwater monitoring. Indeed, Senate Bill SBX7 6 would, if passed, “establish a groundwater monitoring program pursuant to which specified entities [IRWMP, for instance], in accordance with prescribed procedures, may propose to be designated by the Department of Water Resources as groundwater monitoring entities.” And in terms of authority, IRWMP — a largely non-elected group that doesn’t answer to voters — would be ranked ahead of respective counties (including members).
The amalgam of a few key pieces of legislation could, in Hazard’s estimation, potentially lead to a “socialization of water.” For example: ranchers or farmers would still retain their water rights, but could end up having unused water diverted to other regions. Under such legislation, should they want to use their own water for other purposes, they would have to apply and justify those uses to the “monitoring entities,” which would make a yes or no determination, a situation that’s already got the backs of several farmers and cattlemen decidedly up.
Most Board members, however, leaned toward potential gains. “Capital and public works for the County, projects for Mammoth and other benefits can be great things for us, especially in a tough economy,” Supervisor Tom Farnetti said. “Our position and rights are more defensible being part of it than not being part of it,” opined Supervisor Vikki Bauer. Interim Supervisor Bob Peters agreed with Bauer’s position, commenting he felt more comfortable “being inside the tent as opposed to outside it.”
Chair Byng Hunt said overall he wasn’t so worried about the County’s position. “Other agencies involved in IRWMP have looked at the same questions we have, especially concerning geographical boundaries,” he pointed out.
At the final buzzer, Hazard dissented in a 4-1 vote to sign the 2008 document. A $5,000 contribution was, however, deferred to the next budget cycle for later deliberation.