Somewhat odd that we’ll devote some front page space to a groundwater management district in a year of plenty when groundwater pumping is a less pressing concern, but … The Sheet loves a good soap opera, and the Tri Valley Groundwater Management District (TVGMD) board did not disappoint during its monthly meeting Wednesday evening in Chalfant.
On the agenda: Nomination and possible appointment to fill a current vacancy on the board of directors.
The vacancy was created on November 30, 2022
At full strength, the board is supposed to have seven members.
It currently has six.
Three of the members are considered pro-agriculture and have wells that pump greater than 100 gallons per minute.
Another three members are considered domestic users.
Each interest group would like to appoint a seventh member who philosophically aligns with them.
The domestic users are concerned about groundwater overdraft. Aaron Johnson, Senior Environmental Scientist for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (Bishop office) said the one groundwater monitoring site in Hammil Valley shows the water table has been dropping at an average rate of 1.8 feet per year.
This could endanger the future viability of residential wells.
As Dennis Murphy said, “We don’t think anyone here wants ag to go away … we just don’t want to have to re-drill our wells.”
Meanwhile, Peter Stickells of the Zack Ranch said the issue isn’t so much about water as it is about economics.
Essentially, if we can’t use the land for farming, he said, we should be able to use it for something else.
He suggested a potential rezoning to allow for residential development.
This was not met with enthusiasm from Murphy, who replied, “We don’t want the complexion of the valley to change.”
Murphy is one of two people who were mentioned as possible candidates to fill the board vacancy. The other is Don Moss. Murphy does not have an extraction well. Moss does.
But before the board got too far into the weeds regarding the merits of either, Mono County Assistant Counsel Christopher Beck pulled the plug on the whole enterprise.
According to Government Code 1780, the Board had sixty days from November 30 to make an appointment or set an election.
Because that didn’t happen, County Supervisors had the opportunity to appoint someone within the 60-90 day window.
Because that didn’t happen, the vacancy will be filled during the next general election, which is expected to be held this November.
According to Supervisor Rhonda Duggan, the Board had voted to appoint Moss by a 3-2 count (with one absence) within the 60-day window, but the appointment was voided because it required a supermajority (at least four votes).
By the time this was discovered, she said, the window for appointment by the Board of Supervisors had expired.
So we’re looking at a 3-3 logjam until November.
One interesting aside in terms of Board composition. It’s supposed to have four domestic user members and three agricultural members, HOWEVER … a person who has a one hundred gallon per minute extraction well but also has a separate residential well can run as a “domestic” user.
Technically, ag could occupy all seven seats.
Even if there are 1,100 residents as opposed to 6-8 agricultural users of significant size.
Resident Mike Godbe made public comment saying, “You’re supposed to be a representative body.”
The implication being, a 1,100-8 user breakdown should translate into majority rule for the domestic users.
The CDFW’s Aaron Johnson capped the meeting with a presentation regarding the Hammil Valley Monitoring Well Project.
Funding has been approved for the $1 million, three-well project.
“We want to figure out what’s happening with Fish Slough [declining water levels] and why,” said Johnson. “Our goal is to gather data so local [management] agencies can manage the water.”
In other news … lots of rumors flying about whether or not Mammoth’s Bike Park or Snowcreek’s Golf Course will open this summer.
In regard to the Bike Park, the rumors are likely being fueled by the fact that Mammoth’s pulled the bike park season passes off the market. But V.P. of Marketing and Sales Joani Lynch says this is because Mammoth can’t confirm an opening date. And the season is likely to be pretty short. Still, she says, “We are committed to opening trails and shuttle and lift access … but there is no telling ‘when.’”
The Sheet also spoke with Chadmar’s Chuck Lande this week about Snowcreek Golf Course. He said no formal decision has been made at this time. “We’re trying to figure it out … we’ll have more information within a few more weeks. But there’s no point in spending a fortune to get it open for two weeks.”
In both cases, the impact of snow runoff remains the great unknown.
The Sheet extended deadline this week so Lunch could attend Inyo County’s water runoff/disaster preparedness public meeting held at 5 p.m. at the Tri-County Fairgrounds.
Approximately 150 were in attendance.
Several officials from Inyo County, Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power, Caltrans and more gave updates.
Eric Tillemans, L.A. Aqueduct Operations Manager, led off with a stark overview of the water year we’ve had.
Which is the biggest on record. By a lot.
Snowpack in Mammoth Lakes is 20% higher than 1969.
The runoff estimate for the Owens River Basin is 233% of average.
By comparison, the next two biggest years:
There will be 100,000 acre-feet more runoff than there was in 2017.
In the Owens River below Pleasant Valley Reservoir, flows are expected to break at 1,300 cfs (cubic feet per second).
By comparison, those flows were 750 cfs in 2017.
One local official who’s fairly high up on the food chain acknowledged that there is great concern within the ranks at LADWP that the $2 billion in dust mitigation spent at Owens Lake could get annihilated.
The other big issue is public safety.
There is potential, said Inyo County CAO Nate Greenberg, that roads could wash out and cut us off from the rest of the world.
And unlike the rain on snow event in March, this runoff event will be slightly less intense, but will last months instead of days.
So if a road washes out, who knows how long it could take to repair it.
A few other tidbits. From Greenberg: We’re already seeing issues with septic systems because of the rising water table.
From Aqueduct Manager Adam Perez: Mono Lake water levels could rise as much as five feet.
Also from Perez: Pleasant Valley Reservoir will be open to recreation this weekend for fishing opener, but the campground is closed and the only access is via Gorge Road.
Nate Deer of the Inyo Sheriff’s Office urges the public to sign up for access to “Code Red,” an emergency notification system.
Mikaela Torres, Inyo County Emergency Services Manager, touted public information available on Ready Inyo and Ready Mono dedicated websites.
And finally, if you have water flowing through your property, as a private citizen you’ve got to do your part and keep your waterways free and clear of debris.