If you wish to complain about local news coverage, you could use this column as exhibit A.
Because I’m about to talk about something that’s been going on for several years, but we probably haven’t covered it for four.
In part, I attribute that to bureaucratic beatdown. Defined as, a governmental entity holding so many public meetings that it overwhelms you with tedium on an issue.
Then, when the entity finally gets to the point where it’s ready to take action, it points to the countless public meetings held as “outreach” which justifies whatever action is close at hand.
On Tuesday, while many of you were rooting on the Dodgers to stave off elimination, a group of twenty or so met at the Chalfant Community Center.
Staving off elimination was on the minds of many that evening.
The reason: A draft of the Owens Valley Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) is currently being circulated for review at www.ovga.us. Deadline for public comment is November 8.
The Owens Valley Groundwater Authority (OVGA) is expected to approve the plan by the end of the year.
The OVGA is comprised of five voting members (Inyo County, Mono County, City of Bishop, Big Pine Community Services District and Indian Creek Westridge Community Services District).
Once the plan is approved, the OVGA will have fairly broad power to enforce the provisions of Califorbia’s 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), which is what precipitated the formation of the OVGA in the first place.
SGMA was enacted by the California legislature to “to halt overdraft and bring groundwater basins into balanced levels of pumping and recharge,” according to the State Water Resources Control Board description. Further, it adds, “SGMA requires local agencies adopt sustainability plans for high- and medium-priority groundwater basins.”
While the Owens Valley Groundwater Basin and Fish Slough sub-basin was initially categorized as a medium-priority basin, it was reclassified as a low-priority basin in 2019.
At the outset, there were 11 members of the OVGA, but the revision of a Basin boundary eliminated Starlite, and reclassification to low priority encouraged Wheeler Crest CSD, Eastern Sierra CSD, Sierra Highlands CSD, Keeler CSD and the Tri-Valley Groundwater Management District to drop out.
There was a financial incentive to drop out because each member was expected to share in the cost, and it is projected that implementation of the GSP will cost upwards of $400,000.
But as Carol Mitchell, Tri-Valley Groundwater Management District board member, also explained, Tri-Valley dropped out “because our input was always ignored.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, many Tri-Valley residents advocated that Mono County should also drop out of the OVGA.
The rationale: if Mono County pulls out, the OVGA would have no jurisdiction in Chalfant, Hammill and Benton.
Which would suit the local ranchers just fine, as they feel the OVGA has its sights set on reining in their water usage.
Which isn’t too far off.
As it states in the draft plan, “The Tri-Valley area is likely in overdraft … using the best available information and observed, steady groundwater level declines over several decades.”
“Based on available geologic, hydrologic and geochemical evidence, pumping in the management area is the cause of declining water levels and spring flow in Fish Slough.”
“Reducing demand or changing land management is the most likely course to arrest chronic groundwater declines and groundwater storage reductions.”
Of the approximate $437,000 budgeted for GSP implementation, $300,000 of that is slated for groundwater model development in the Tri-Valley. As was stated at Tuesday’s meeting in Chalfant, “We don’t know what’s underneath us.” There’s limited data.
But what is known is that groundwater levels are in decline.
The GSP stated that Benton groundwater levels are down approximately 9.5 feet over thirty years, and Chalfant levels are dropping by about a half-foot per year. in Hammill, that number is thought to be two feet per year or more.
In June of this year, 512 surveys were sent out to Tri-Valley residents to gather feedback and data. Just 41 were returned. Many at Tuesday’s meeting found the outreach lacking and incomplete. One Tri-Valley resident, Ben Hildenbrand, said he owns three properties in the valley and he didn’t receive any surveys to be filled out and returned.
The draft GSP, however, did include some anecdotal survey responses.
Not one respondent believes Tri-Valley groundwater levels are rising.
One respondent said their well level dropped from 123’ to 165’ between 2003-2021.
Another said their well depth was 227’ in 2009. By 2010, they had to replace a pump at 237’. In 2021, they installed a new pump at 275’.
A third believed their groundwater had been dropping at a rate of a foot a year since 1998.
Carol Mitchell, said in a phone conversation Thursday that she is not opposed to groundwater modeling and knowing more, but that she’d rather study these things as a local community.
“We tend to do well [here] in smaller groups where people feel they are understood,” she said.
She believes Mono County should create its own water department, because Inyo County’s, in her opinion, is essentially paid for by the City of Los Angeles.
She also knows the writing is on the wall.
“We are definitely going to have to change.” The ranchers know it, she said. That’s why they’ve slowly drifted off serving on the Tri-Valley Groundwater Management District board.
“And I know no one will be happy with me,” she acknowledged. “No matter what happens.”
One of the things that’s pretty interesting about the OVGA and its plan is that LADWP is exempt from its authority, as it’s governed by the LTWA (Long Term Water Agreement)
One public comment in the draft document, which did not identify the speaker, touched on this.
“So, I wanted to point out … SGMA gives the Owens Valley Groundwater Authority, you guys, this board, regulatory authority over large parts of the Owens Valley Groundwater basin. You’re going to be able to set goals, you’re going to be able to determine the monitoring and management, you can collect fees from people, you can impose penalties for noncompliance, or you know, you have a lot of leeway, and you may even be able to issue permits. So, all of that authority is something that the State granted through SGMA and, I want you to note that Inyo County can’t do any of those things when it comes to DWP and their pumping under the Water Agreement. So, they’re, you know, the term regulatory authority is pretty important and it just doesn’t exist in the Inyo-LA Water Agreement. And why is this a problem? Well everybody in the public has been asking and we’ve been commenting here that, and the way it often gets asked is, what are we doing about the so-called adjudicated non- adjudicated boundary in the Owens Valley Groundwater Basin? Um, another way to ask that is, why should the non-adjudicated areas, that the OVGA will have responsibility over, have to pay the price for what DWP has done to vast parts of the groundwater basin, the parts that are subject to the water agreement? So you’re getting stuck with the problem that you didn’t create.
It’s been suggested that to deal with this so-called gorilla in the room is that we consider, I mean we everybody, that Inyo County and DWP work together on their own GSP. Something complementary to what you’re doing. Why not? I mean, what could possibly go wrong? In other words, if they don’t do it that will tell you something. If they say the agreement is good enough, here it is, here’s what we’ll be doing, then we’ll know but I do think it’s worth considering because otherwise you are putting a big burden on non-adjudicated areas. The rest of us.
… And the way the criteria for monitoring and triggers and thresholds and all of this for groundwater levels in the GSP will grandfather in the damage to the hydrology and to the environment that’s already been imposed by DWP pumping. And I don’t think you want to send this message to DWP that what they’ve done so far to date is perfectly acceptable and we’ll just accept this new baseline and forget about everything that’s happened up until now. But everything that’s happened up until now affects our future, it affects our people, our environment, and our economy. I’ve been looking at those hydro-graphs that get presented during the consultants’ presentations and a lot of them to me, show what I would call broken hydrology. Normally groundwater levels show a really, a relatively reasonable, predictable fluctuation season to season … you get that nice seasonal pattern of hydrology to me they look like a heartbeat, and it just tells you that everything’s working. And when you have really wet years or really dry years you might get a change in magnitude of those peaks and drops in that seasonal variation but only when you pump the water do you get that go haywire drops to Timbuktu or suddenly it goes way up. You know, craziness that we see in some of the hydrographs that have been presented. And some of the rise in the water table can be due to surface manipulations like irrigation, water spreading, that kind of thing. So it can happen around communities, that’s true, but I think we need to understand the basic hydrology before we go setting targets and thresholds that are based on a really damaged hydrology.”
The comment concluded by alluding to LADWP Urban Water Management Plan being developed.
“Look at the numbers and you will see they don’t need Eastern Sierra water. They really don’t … I just want to put that on your radar, because it’s time to take back charge like SGMA gave this to us. You know, local control of our water supplies up here.”
OVGA representatives are expected to attend a public outreach meeting in Benton this week on October 20 at the Community Center. Time: 6:30 p.m.
Finally, a Sheet reader forwarded a story this week titled, “Council To Stop Paying Wizard $16,000 (~$11,700 U.S.) A Year After 23 Years On The Payroll.”
In New Zealand, the city of Christchurch had kept a wizard on the payroll.
The Apple News story indicated he was dropped because he apparently doesn’t fit with the modern image of the city.
The wizard, who is also known as Ian Brackenbury Channell, derided the city Council following the decision as “a bunch of bureaucrats who have no imagination.
They are not thinking of ways to promote Christchurch overseas. They are just projecting an image of bureaucrats drinking lattes on the boulevard.
Their image of Christchurch is nothing to do with the authentic heritage of the city. I am the original image of Christchurch,” railed Channell.
Our reader added a one-liner as commentary: “Four-to-one this guy ends up on the Town [of Mammoth] payroll.”