Contemplated H2O Routes To Indian Wells Valley Have Varying Financial & Environmental Impacts

Plans are advancing for importing water into the Indian Wells Valley. The Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority is considering three possible pipeline routes to import water from the State Water Project to the region at the northwesternmost extreme of San Bernardino County and adjoining sections of Kern and Inyo counties.
The groundwater authority is a joint powers entity that has Kern County, Inyo County, San Bernardino County, the Indian Wells Valley Water District and the City of Ridgecrest as its voting members and the United States Navy and the United States Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management as non-voting associate members of its governing board. Last year, the authority’s governing board consented to hiring Provost & Pritchard Consulting Group to carry out a study of the most efficient and economic way to convey imported water to the valley.
The Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Basin Authority is proposing a $200-million, 50-mile-long pipeline system that would traverse mountainous desert terrain to bring water from the California Aqueduct in California City to Ridgecrest in Kern County, where it would be held in a massive storage tank operated by the Indian Wells Valley Water District. The water would be used to recharge the groundwater basin beneath Indian Wells Valley, which stretches across approximately 600 square miles of Kern, northeast San Bernardino and southeast Inyo counties.
The groundwater authority was formed 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. Previously, in 2014, 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. That balance is supposed to be achieved by 2040.
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 injecting it deep into the ground to avoid evaporation and replenish water lost from excessive production.
Three years ago, after the survey of water use by well owners both collectively and individually was made, the authority assigned water use allowances to the region’s well owners. Excess use fees, referred to as augmentation fees, were formulated for application to those well owners who pump above their allowances as well as on farmers who go beyond their respective share of the water supply set aside for agricultural usage. The authority intends to use money generated in this way to purchase imported water and pay for the infrastructure needed to bring in the imported water.
That water is to come from the State Water Project, imported to the southern part of the state by the California Aqueduct.
At present, however, there is no means of conveyance of water that would come out of the California Aqueduct to Indian Wells Valley, meaning a pipeline will need to be constructed.
Provost & Pritchard provides civil engineering, water resource management, environmental, structural engineering, hydrogeologic, GIS, surveying, caves and tunnels expertise, planning, and construction management consulting services. According to the company’s principal engineer, Jeff Davis, the authority has essentially three options with regard to the route the pipeline should take from California City to Ridgecrest, one of which he termed a west alignment, a second he called a central alignment, and a third he referred to as an east alignment.
Given geographical and topographical factors, the difficulty of the terrain to be encountered, along with the pre-existence of certain infrastructure and utilities in some areas and the lack of such necessities in other others along with complications or a lack thereof with regard to securing right-of-way along certain paths, Davis said there are relative advantages and disadvantages in multiple respects to each of the three paths the pipeline might take.
In each case, the pipeline will need to traverse the Rand and El Paso mountains. Of consideration is that the pipeline might end up disturbing critical habitat for certain species which dwell in the desert, Davis said, requiring care in how the pipeline is designed, placed and constructed.
The west alignment would run north from California city on land next to Neuralia Road and bend west through Jawbone Canyon and resume a northerly direction crossing U.S. Route 14 to Ridgecrest. An advantage to this course is that it would replicate in spans an existing pathway for a large Los Angeles Department of Water and Power water pipeline and not conflict with any critical habitat for the endangered desert tortoise. Nevertheless, the west alignment would require bringing in electricity or other utilities to areas where lifting stations are needed as well as traversing no fewer than four major roads or rail lines.
The center alignment similarly goes north on Neuralia Road but cuts east between the Rand and El Paso mountains, continuing until U.S. Route 395, at which point it makes a 90 degree turn north all the way to Ridgecrest.
This route does not entail having to deal with the Rand and El Paso mountains, a striking advantage. Moreover, it parallels existing roadways. The downside is that it interferes with the critical habitat of some species of animals that live in the desert and will require bringing in utilities to certain portions of the route.
The east alignment follows 20 Mule Team Parkway out of California City and towards U.S. Route 395. It then follows U.S. Route 395 north all the way to Ridgecrest.
This pathway is advantageous from the standpoint that it parallels existing infrastructure virtually the entire distance, such that the construction can be readily undertaken. It would, however, require two sets of lifting stations, one to boost the water up one steep incline over the Rand Mountains, at which point it would then follow a downgrade into a valley between the Rand and El Paso Mountains and then climb once more over the El Paso Mountains. Like the center alignment, it would entail some interference with critical habitat for certain desert species.
-Mark Gutglueck

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