SBC Promised Industrial Representation On Tri-County Desert Water Board

A key player in San Bernardino County’s representation on the joint powers authority that will ultimately formulate the rules, procedures and prerogatives regarding the future pumping, use and distribution of water at San Bernardino County’s extreme northwestern tip will come from the industrial sector, the Sentinel has learned.
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. Indian Wells Valley must form a groundwater sustainability agency by June 30, 2017, and adopt a groundwater sustainability plan by January 30, 2020.
What has been proposed and is now being actuated is that through a joint exercise of powers agreement, the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority is being created with Kern County, San Bernardino County, Inyo County, the City of Ridgecrest and the Indian Wells Valley Water District as general and voting members and United States Navy and United States Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management as non-voting associate members.
Practically speaking, the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority is dominated by Kern County together with Ridgecrest and the water district. Nevertheless, the City of Trona, which is well past its heyday as an industrial and mining powerhouse, nonetheless possesses tremendous potential as an important industrial asset, and its access to water in sufficient quantity to sustain mining operations and production efforts based upon the availability of an abundance of minerals locally is crucial to realizing that potential.
While the other voting members are people who have established status as political representatives and possess sensitivity to the use of water in domestic settings, San Bernardino County was able to get a commitment from the other participants that it would be able to place on the groundwater authority board a personage employed with the major mining company in Trona.
Kern County Supervisor Mick Gleason chairs the authority’s board and he has tasked Alan Christensen, Kern County’s deputy county administrative officer, with hiring and appointing employees of the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority board. The concept going forward is to form a policy advisory committee with legal and administrative experience to draft a framework for the groundwater sustainability plan with input from a second advisory committee steeped in hydrology expertise to be referred to as the technical committee.
Both will exist as official governmental committees subject to the Ralph M. Brown Act, the state’s open public meeting law. Their meetings will be open to the public, with the exception of closed session discussions relating to personnel, real estate acquisition and litigation. The committees will not have ultimate, final say in the drafting of the plan, but will serve in an advisory capacity to the board of directors.
There will be seventeen members of the policy advisory committee, one from each of the five general members and two associate members; two from large agriculture interests, specifically Meadowbrook Farms Mutual Water Company and the Mojave Ranch; one from small agriculture interests; two business; two domestic well owners; one from a planning agency/background; an environmental-oriented member, in this case a board member of the Eastern Kern County Resource Conservation District; and one industrial, that being a representative of the Searles Valley Minerals operation in Trona.
The technical advisory committee will have 12 members, one from each of the authority’s five general and two voting members; one each from agriculture, domestic well and industrial interests; one from Kern County Water Agency; and the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority’s technical consultant. The committee members are to have formal education and experience in a water/groundwater-related field, a technical background in hydrology, hydrogeology or geology and have a familiarity with Indian Wells Valley.
Gleason and Indian Wells Valley Water District board member Peter Brown appear to have been the most active and energetic participants in the authority formation undertaking.
Already, there is indication that the far more numerous domestic and agricultural interests have jockeyed or are jockeying into positions of advantage and political leverage with regard to the authority’s composition. Derek Hoffman, an attorney representing agricultural interests is seeking two positions representing farmers on both the policy and technical committees.
The most intensive industrial portion of the Indian Wells Valley District lies in San Bernardino County, in the district around Trona.
Situated at San Bernardino County’s extreme northwest corner, Trona is one of the county’s most obscure communities. The north Trona City Limits is the Inyo County border, which stands at the mouth to Death Valley.
Adjacent to the dry Searles Lake bed, Trona came into existence as a remote mining outpost in the 1880s where borax was mined. Subsequently, the mining of the mineral trona, either in the form trisodium hydrogendicarbonate dihydrate or sodium sesquicarbonate dihydrate, became more predominant, and the town’s name was in this way derived. Trona is the primary source of sodium carbonate, also known as soda ash, produced in the United States. Soda ash is used in the fabrication of glass, detergents and dyes. Potash was also a major mineral mined in the Trona area.
In 1913, the American Trona Corporation, a mineral mining company, undertook to establish a company town at Trona, and planned and designed a community in which the workforce employed at the mines and in the chemical plant built there could live. As a self-contained company town, Trona became something of a world unto itself and thrived as the local population, the lion’s share of whom were company employees, utilized for the most part not greenbacks or checks but rather company scrip, which was tender in the company-owned stores and shops in the town. The American Trona Corporation built a library, a school, a dance hall, recreation facilities, including a bowling alley and other amenities in the town. The Trona Railway was built in 1913–14, providing the town with a rail connection to what was then the Southern Pacific line at Searles.
The American Trona Corporation became the American Potash & Chemical Corporation in 1926, at which time its major products were borax, soda ash and sodium sulfate. In 1967, Kerr-McGee Corporation (now a subsidiary of Anadarko Petroleum Corporation) acquired American Potash and Chemical Corporation and they held operations of the Searles Valley facilities until 1990. That year the operations were purchased from capital investors D. George Harris and Associates, resulting in the formation of the North American Chemical Company. Ownership changed yet again in 1998 when IMC Global Incorporation acquired the North American Chemical Company.
In 2004 Sun Capital Partners purchased IMC Global Incorporation and renamed it Searles Valley Minerals, Inc. In November 2007, Nirma, based in Ahmedabad, India purchased the company from Sun Capital Partners.
While the population of Trona in 2000 stood at 2,742, it has been steadily declining ever since.

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