Making Gradual Strides Toward Reducing H2O Depletion In Indian Wells Valley

While it is doubtful that the comprehensive mix of water users who fall under the aegis of the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority will meet the goal of reducing water drafting in the region by all entities to 7,650 acre-feet by 2040, projects being undertaken by the joint powers authority will bring the area much closer to the idealized balance of water use envisaged by the state.
In 2015, in the aftermath of a four-year running drought and a determination by the California Department of Water Resources that the Indian Wells Valley is one of the 21 basins throughout the State of California in critical overdraft, the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority was formed, pursuant to a joint exercise of powers agreement involving Kern County, San Bernardino County, Inyo County, the City of Ridgecrest and the Indian Wells Valley Water District as general members and the United States Navy and the United States Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management as associate members.
Previously, in 2014, then-California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, mandating water-saving measures throughout the state and requiring local agencies to draft plans to bring groundwater aquifers into balanced levels of pumping and recharge through the adoption of a groundwater sustainability plan.Based upon a survey of water usage patterns undertaken by an engineering consultant, Carlsbad-based Stetson Engineers, the authority and the Indian Wells Valley Water District sought to derive a strategy for both reducing water use in the valley and increasing groundwater recharge to reach a balance of both that will end the overdraft.
Any realistic assessment of the existing population, industrial, agricultural and commercial operations in the area and the decreases in the drafting of water from the regional aquifer that could be achieved through efficientization, conservation, increased recycling of water and perhaps the minimization of evaporation demonstrated that it would not be possible to achieve by the target year of 2040, as is mandated by the state, a balance of natural water recharge to the region from rainfall and the amount of water usage, such that the depletion of the aquifer will end.
According to the surveys completed to provide the data needed to formulate the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Sustainability Plan, the average natural annual recharge in the basin is 7,650 acre-feet while the annual drafting of groundwater in the region by all entities is three to four times that amount.
Accordingly, staff and the board of the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority long ago concluded that the sought-after goal of bringing the region’s water table out of a state of overdraft can only be achieved by the importation of water from outside the valley and then injecting it deep into the ground to avoid evaporation and replenish water lost from excessive production.
At the September 14 board meeting for the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority, the board heard updates on some of its major projects from Stetson Engineers, the authority’s leading consultant on the water-use balancing effort.
Participants focused on the water importation efforts. This includes plans to construct a pipeline to import water from the California Aqueduct. That water is to then be channeled into settling basins to recharge the aquifer beneath Indian Wells Valley. The water will then be extracted by well owners throughout the region.
In July, the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority committed $449,100 toward determining the most efficient and affordable route and realistic approach toward right-of-way acquisition for the pipeline, an assignment being carried out by the Provost & Pritchard Consulting Group.
In addition, the authority obtained a $7.6 million grant from the California Department of Water Resources to perform an alignment study for the pipeline.
The collective will also need to build up a financial fund it can use to purchase both water rights and water from the State Water Project.
According to Stetson Engineers principal Jeff Helsley, the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority made headway in obtaining the grant because of the state’s priority on curing water overdrafts throughout the state.
In addition to Stetson Engineers, the authority is highly dependent upon the guidance of the Indian Wells Valley Water District. The district and Provost & Pritchard are coordinating to undertake and complete a preliminary environmental information form, an environmental study that is far less exacting than a full-blown environmental impact report, on the pipeline proposal, based on inexact location criteria for the pipeline, by November 30.
Also, according to Helsey, the participants in the Indian Wells Valley Water Authority will need to refine an energetic water recycling program to make strides toward balancing the region’s water use and natural recharge to limit the depletion of the water table.
While traditional recycled water is not potable, Helsley said that the plan is to collect as much recycled water as possible, treat it and then inject it into the aquifer.
Mark Gutglueck

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