This February, our region’s Inyo-Mono Integrated Regional Water Management Program (IRWMP) Group will celebrate five years since its first public meeting. There might not be a cake, but there will be lots of work going on.
The state’s Department of Water Resources (DWR) recently awarded the organization its second planning grant, $480,000, which is currently in “launch phase,” according to IRWMP Director Mark Drew. The funding will go toward climate variation studies, building a more robust geographic information system, mapping out financial particulars and ongoing work on the Town of Mammoth Lakes’ Stormwater Management plan, among other regional planning efforts.
Projects funded through the DWR’s 2011 Round 1 Implementation grant cycle are still moving forward. In 2011, the IRWMP was awarded a grant of $1,075,000 to fund seven, on-the-ground projects that support improvements in water supply and water quality in Inyo and Mono counties. One project, the Coleville High School Water Project to remove uranium and provide storage capacity for both the school and local emergency fire protection needs, was deemed a big success. More projects are expected to start by spring during better weather conditions.
“Water programs have challenges,” Drew explained. “Apart from the state bureaucracy, and dealing with agencies and contracts, there’s the weather to consider.”
While that’s going forward, the IRWMP will be submitting its Round 2 implementation proposal for an additional $1.9 million in funding. One project is a large, multijurisdictional groundwater study in Death Valley, which is in the IRWMP’s southern portion. Also on the drawing board for Round 2: more work on the TOML stormwater plan, a study of brackish water with the Indian Wells Valley water district and a local groundwater management group to determine what supplies might be treatable, and water meter upgrades in Lone Pine, Laws and Independence.
The IRWMP group is also working with economically disadvantaged communities in the region. This project includes creating a documentary for educational outreach that, according to Drew, speaks to the relationship between local community resources and needs and water, in particular what the IRWMP is doing for disadvantaged rural communities.
“We’ve got $100 million plus in identified project needs,” Drew noted, “and we want to support those needs. But we’re not going to be able to keep writing proposals. We want to teach the individual entities to write those up themselves. We want to empower them; it’s not about just bringing a check. Give a man a fish or teach a man to fish, that’s the analogy.”
With expansion comes the need to keep a close watch on what it’s doing. “If we have a chunk or money, what are we going after and how do we spend it best?”
The IRWMP conducted a needs assessment, and found there is a shortage of emergency planning in some areas, particularly as concerns disadvantaged communities.
Speaking of which, in addition to its other funding, the IRWMP was awarded one of only 7 state grants to engage and build capacity in disadvantaged communities. “They used geographic and socioeconomic criteria, and we were selected to look at rural needs in headwater types of communities, which basically describes us,” he added. DWR wants to “learn to do better” serving such areas, and Drew’s take is that tribal communities will play a key role in that effort.
He still takes issue with the state’s “one-size-fits-all” metric of 80% or less of Median Household Income (MHI) to determine what constitutes a “rural” area. Outlying areas without a lot of access to resources should be part of the equation, he thinks. “There should be other metrics to determine how to designate or capture disadvantaged communities,” he posited.
One of Drew’s goals for this year is to influence and tailor the methodology using other criteria, which could catapult the Eastern Sierra to more prominence with Sacramento lawmakers. “We get excluded from a lot of funding opportunities because we’re not in the Central Valley, but we provide a lot of water.”
With 32 signatory agencies and entities, Drew is very enthused by the IRWMP’s trend toward building internal collaborations. “We’ve got these groups together, now there are partnerships forming on projects,” he mentioned. “There are big opportunities for leveraging, creating synergies.”
Drew cited an example of the Big Pine tribal community and the local community services district partnering on improving and expanding the number of fire hydrants, an identified fire safety need which the IRWMP as a whole ranked a top priority.
“We’ve brought in about $2.5 million into the region, which creates jobs, meets needs and fosters partnerships. Together we can do more, and there are lots of opportunities for Inyo and Mono counties to work together,” Drew opined. “We plan shortly to reach out to the supervisors — especially the incoming ones — in both counties.”
IRWMP Program Manager Holly Alpert also thinks the group and the community should be thinking long term, as well as short term. “There are immediate needs, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the challenges to water supply and demand by 2050,” she said. A recent DWR study projected that by mid-century, it’s possible that left unaddressed California’s demand could outpace supply, creating shortfalls statewide.
Alpert is actively engaged in work studying climate variability, studying how changeable climatic conditions in our region affect precipitation and water use and needs, yielding some groundbreaking data for the Eastern Sierra and its high desert sections.
“There are water projects from Ridgecrest to Topaz, all of which have different climatic models,” she explained. “We need to get that information to the local level.”
Details on IRWMP’s plans will be discussed during the next meeting Wednesday, Jan. 23, at 9:30 a.m. at the Mammoth Community Water District.