County Joins With Kern, Inyo & Ridgecrest To Keep Trona H2O Flowing

San Bernardino County has joined with Kern and Inyo counties, the City of Ridgecrest, the United States Navy and United States Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management to initiate the formation of a joint power authority to counteract the overdraft of the aquifer underlying the extreme northwest end of the county.
Indian Wells Valley straddles southeastern Kern County, southwestern Inyo County and Northwestern San Bernardino County. Underlying it is the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Basin, from which the City of Ridgecrest and its outlying area’s domestic, commercial, industrial and agricultural water users draw their water, as does the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station, the Searles Valley Mineral Company in Trona and the remainder of industrial, commercial and domestic users in Trona.
Historically, the Indian Wells Valley Water Basin experiences roughly 7,000 to 11,000 acre-feet of annual natural water recharge per year but for three decades has been using on average 28,000 to 30,000 acre-feet of water annually. Last year, California Governor Jerry Brown, in the face of a four-year running drought, mandated water saving measures throughout the state. Water use in the Indian Wells Valley Water Basin was reduced to under 24,000 acre-feet, which still exceeds the estimated 7,300 acre-feet of recharge by 16,700 acre feet.
In September 2014, Governor Brown signed into law the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which requires local agencies to draft plans to bring groundwater aquifers into balanced levels of pumping and recharge.
What has been proposed is that through a joint exercise of powers agreement, the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority be created with Kern County, San Bernardino County,
Inyo County, the City of Ridgecrest and the Indian Wells Valley Water District as general members and United States Navy and United States Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management as associate members, with each general member having one voting seat on the authority board and the federal associate members participating in all board discussions, but not having a vote.
This week the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors approved having the county join the authority, agreeing to put up $15,000 by August 15, 2016 toward the initial capital needed to finance the operations of the authority through December 31, 2016. Kern County has initially estimated the total cost to form and operate through 2020 a groundwater sustainability agency and develop a plan to sustainably manage the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Basin as mandated by state law at $2,210,000.
The Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Basin is currently the sole source of potable water for the residents, businesses, schools, and government agencies located in the community of Trona and the residents within approximately 615 acres of unincorporated, privately-owned land in the northwest portion of the County adjacent to the City of Ridgecrest. Trona is located at the extreme northeast corner of San Berbnardino County.
The Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Basin underlies 382,000 acres of land primarily in Kern, but also includes the northwestern corner of San Bernardino County and a southern portion of Inyo County. The primary retail water supplier is the Indian Wells Valley Water District, which serves Ridgecrest and the surrounding area, including the 615 acres in San Bernardino County. Additionally, private domestic, commercial, agricultural and governmental users pump groundwater from the basin, including the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station and Searles Valley Minerals. The Searles Valley Mineral Mining Company pipes basin water to its operation in Trona, and sells some of it to the residents and other business, school, and government facilities in Trona through its subsidiary, the Searles Domestic Water Co.
Based on prior studies of the basin, the annual use of basin groundwater (an estimated 23,700 acre feet in 2013) may exceed the annual natural recharge of the basin with rain and snow melt (an estimated 7,300 acre feet in 2013) by as much as 225%. It is also estimated that the groundwater level in the basin is dropping one to two feet each year. As a result, in January 2016, the State Department of Water Resources designated the basin as a critically overdrafted basin, requiring the groundwater sustainability agency for the basin to submit a groundwater sustainability plan by January 31, 2020.
Since October 2015, Kern has, with the assistance of an outside facilitator, led discussions amongst the local agencies with overlying jurisdiction in the basin about the formation of a
collaborative groundwater sustainability agency with the goal of cost effective sustainable groundwater management. These discussions produced the recommended agreement.
Don Zdeba, the general manager of the Indian Wells Valley Water District, this week told the Sentinel that the groundwater sustainability plan is intended to apply to “all major pumpers in the valley.” He said that his company has “a relatively small number of customers in San Bernardino County.”
Zdeba, who was formerly the general manager of the Searles Valley Mineral Corporation in Trona before he took on the assignment of director of the Indian Wells Valley Water District, estimated the amount of water being drawn from the basin’s wells to serve Trona at “approximately 2,500 acre-feet per year.” He said that water is conveyed to Trona through the Searles Valley Mineral Corporation’s pipeline. A portion of that water, he said goes “to the boilers at the Searles Valley Mineral plant.”
Zdeba said there are wells in Trona but that the water drawn from them is “brackish. It is used to feed the mineral plant” and is not safe for human construction, he said.
Options the authority will have to overcome the overdraft include, Zdeba said, reducing water use and purchasing water from elsewhere and using it to recharge the basin.
“We could mandate cutbacks,” he said, “or we could find an imported source. I don’t know how realistic that is given the drought conditions. We do have both Los Angeles aqueducts that pass through this basin. We could arrange for a water trade or to take some of the water out of the aqueduct. We would have a lot of hoops to jump through to do that. That water comes from Inyo County and given the history of Los Angeles having taken water from Inyo County for a century, Inyo County might not go along with more of its water being taken for use outside its borders.”

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