County pitches in on groundwater monitoring; IRWMP tide rises in 2010
There’s the frozen water covering the Eastern Sierra that’s of interest to residents and weather watchers, but it’s the groundwater below and tracking how much is down there that’s of more interest to Sacramento lawmakers.
County staffers Stacey Simon, Deputy County Counsel, and Planner Tony Dublino briefed the Mono County Board of Supervisors earlier this month on the California Statewide Groundwater Elevation Monitoring (CASGEM) program. The Board was to decide whether or not to submit necessary information to the Department of Water Resources (DWR) by January 1, 2011, to volunteer Mono to serve as the Monitoring Entity for all or some of the county’s groundwater.
Since the program was last discussed, however, some of the burden that the County may have originally had to consider taking on has been claimed by other agencies. Simon reported that Mammoth Community Water District has indicated it will volunteer to cover the portion of Long Valley it currently monitors, and the Tri-Valley Groundwater Management District said it would handle efforts in that region.
“That leaves [Mono County] responsible only for areas where no one else can do it,” Simon advised the supervisors.
Estimated costs to the County to perform the monitoring function were projected not to exceed $20,000 annually; however, Simon pointed out that the actual cost is not currently known and will depend on the requirements of the monitoring plan developed in coordination with DWR as well as on the number and location of basins which Mono County volunteers to monitor. “The $20,000 is actually ballpark and based on very little,” Simon acknowledged. Much of whatever the cost ends up being is expected to be in the form of staff hours and consultant fees.
Simon related the highlights of a conversation with Inyo County Water Department Hydrologist Bob Harrington, who she said is basically in charge of groundwater for Inyo County. She and Harrington appeared to differ on their approach to the matter. Harrington, reportedly, asked how [Inyo] can monitor an area such as Death Valley, where the county has no wells and no jurisdiction. Simon said she thinks that selectively picking areas leaves [the county] vulnerable to DWR having to step in and risking having grant funding being denied, etc. She advised Harrington to “let the DWR say that Parks Service data is sufficient and then back off.”
“We’re assuming that DWR is going to be ready to manage the program as of Jan. 1, but reality is that they’ve got a lot of work to do still before reaching that point of readiness,” Supervisor Hap Hazard commented. “There’s no guarantee this whole program isn’t going to collapse under its own weight.”
Newly installed Supervisor Tim Hansen was more wary, saying he objected to the whole program, with its veiled threats, and wasn’t keen on entering into a potentially binding agreement that he said amounts to coercion. “They’ve got us in the noose, and it disturbs me that the state would dump this on a small county that’s having financial problems, as are a lot of other counties,” Hansen remarked.
Simon replied it’s not necessarily binding, but is voluntary. Her take seemed to be that the County wasn’t really being forced into volunteering and “may not end up being selected” when all is said and done.
She also pointed to the possibility that there could be new legislation next year that will carry worse penalties if the County doesn’t at least step up and throw its hat in the ring. The Board generally decided to go with Simon’s comprehensive approach, and submit the necessary paperwork to get Mono County in the loop. “We should at least keep our options open and wait and see what happens,” Chair Byng Hunt observed.
And the IRWMP goes MOU-U-U
The Inyo-Mono Integrated Regional Water Management Group (IM-RWMG), seizing upon the California Department of Water Resources opportunity to help local governments and other organizations on identify and address ”broadly-supported priority water resources projects and programs with multiple benefits,” has come a long way since its Planning Committee approved the initial draft of the Memorandum of Understanding among 25+ signatories in November 2008.
The IM-RWMG was able to complete the first Inyo-Mono Integrated Regional Water Management Plan this year. And on Dec. 8, the group was notified by DWR that its Planning Grant application had been recommended for full funding of $237,000, with a match contribution of approximately $90,000, much of which will be provided via in-kind services.
The application, submitted in late September, was to secure funds to revise and improve the Plan (known as the Phase I Plan), as well as refine how the water management group operates administratively.
“In practical terms, what this funding will provide is an opportunity for us to do more, do it better and continue our work such that we will be strongly positioned to go after future implementation funding,” Mark Drew, of California Trout and the Project’s manager, commented. “More broadly and as importantly in my mind, this funding ensures that we have the necessary means to continue what I consider to be a very worthwhile and productive endeavor.”
Drew will sign a resolution signifying the adoption of the Phase 1 Plan before the year’s end, as an IRWMP staff member and on behalf of the group.
As part of Phase 1, the Inyo-Mono IRWMP has its eye on competing for $5.5 million spread out over 25 projects from 19 different entities for Proposition 84 implementation grant money, out of roughly $6 million available to the entire Lahontan region. Several other IRWMPs will be jockeying for the funding through a competitive process that will likely be decided in Spring 2011. A total of $24 million (possibly more) will eventually be made available to the Lahontan region across the various funding cycles.
“I am pretty sure the IRWMP will not end up with 25 complete applications,” Mono County Planner Tony Dublino told The Sheet. Drew said he’s nonetheless hoping to submit as many as possible. “Probably not all 25, but who knows … 24?” Drew quipped jovially. “We’ll look at things realistically. The DWR could say, ‘Here’s $2 million, spend it as you see fit,’ and we’ll have to look at priorities for the area and what we can fund within that amount.”
Dublino went on to add that any projects that do not make it in this round’s proposal, or that are not funded in Round 1, would likely be brought back in subsequent rounds for another shot.
Newly-seated District 4 Mono County Supervisor Tim Hansen commended Dublino and Mono County counsel Stacey Simon on their hard work in getting the process down to a detailed project list in a very short amount of time. Both self-effacingly said that work also included a lot of work by IRWMP staff and the 30-plus members who regularly attend meetings. Board Chair Byng Hunt agreed, saying, “It’s been a good process so far, let’s see how it plays out.”
Even Supervisor Hap Hazard, who’s followed the IRWMP with what can only be described as a critical eye, was complimentary on how the group has progressed and conducted its affairs.
The RWMG must submit its implementation grant proposal by January 7, 2011.
After a whirlwind 2010, the group plans to regroup in early 2011 to talk about next steps. The Inyo-Mono IRWMP has set its next meeting date for Jan. 26, during which staff will outline major efforts for 2011, including revisions to the current project ranking process, continued regional outreach, and the implementation of the Planning Grant proposal.