By Don Zdeba
If I were to sum up 2021 with respect to the world of California water it would be two words, legislation and litigation. If the prolonged drought California experienced from 2011 through 2017 taught us anything it was that we needed to adapt to the reality that water is not a limitless resource and wasteful habits must give way to conscious decisions to use water wisely. California, as well as other regions of the Western United States, is experiencing drought conditions once again with conditions projected to extend well into next year and perhaps beyond.
The State Water Resources Control Board (“SWRCB”) has promoted several legislative actions as a result of the extended droughts affecting California residents. Most noteworthy is the landmark Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (“SGMA”) of 2014. SGMA requires local Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (“GSAs”) to be formed for all high and medium priority basins in the state. These GSAs must develop and implement Groundwater Sustainability Plans (“GSPs”) for managing and using groundwater without causing undesirable results. High priority, critical condition basins, including the Indian Wells Valley Basin, must achieve groundwater sustainability by January 31, 2040. All other high and medium priority basins must achieve groundwater sustainability by January 31, 2042. The GSP for the Indian Wells Valley Basin was submitted on behalf of the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority (“Authority”) January 31, 2020 and remains under review by the Department of Water Resources (“DWR”). DWR committed to completing their review within two years.
The Water Conservation legislation of 2018 (SB 606 and AB 1668) established a new foundation for long-term improvements in urban water supplier conservation and drought planning. The legislation applies to urban retail water suppliers but does not set any standards or rules for individual customer water use. The legislation requires the Department, in coordination with the Water Board, to perform the necessary studies and investigations to set both indoor and outdoor residential water use standards as well as standards for commercial, institutional, and industrial customers. Though yet to be finalized, targets for indoor residential use per current statute are 55 gallons per person per day (“gpcd”) in 2020, 52.5 gpcd in 2025, and 50 gpcd in 2030. Legislation also provides for appropriate variances for unique uses that have a significant effect on water use. A variance for use in evaporative coolers is one under consideration. These standards, variances, and methodologies will become effective after June 2022, following the Water Board’s adoption of recommendations following a lengthy public process during 2021.
As for litigation, there are multiple lawsuits filed with the court. Mojave Pistachios and Searles Valley Minerals have filed separate but similar lawsuits referred to as reverse validation actions against the Authority challenging the GSP and related implementation actions, including the Replenishment Fee. These lawsuits are currently pending in Orange County. The Water District is a party to the reverse validation actions. In addition to the two reverse validation actions, Mojave Pistachio filed a complaint against the Water District, Searles Valley Minerals, and Meadowbrook Dairy requesting a “limited physical solution” between only these four major water producers. The Navy was not named in the lawsuit.
Most recently, the Water District’s Board of Directors voted to file a Comprehensive Adjudication that does include Navy participation and allows all those who may claim a right to pump or store water in the basin to participate, assert and prove any rights they may claim. A case management conference has been set by the Court for March 15, 2022.
As you see from what I have written in the limited space provided there will be a lot happening with respect to local and state water issues in 2022 and the years to come. I would encourage you to stay informed and involved. Information and updates on the Comprehensive Adjudication can be found using the “Basin Adjudication” tab on the home page of the District’s website, www.iwvwd.com. Information about water issues at local, regional and statewide levels can be found on our Facebook page (IWV Water District). Follow us on Facebook and also on Twitter (@IWVWaterDist).
As we celebrate the holidays and close the book on 2021, the Board and staff of the Water District wishes to thank our customers for your efforts in helping exceed our goal of a 20% reduction in water use compared to the baseline year of 2013. We would also take this opportunity to extend wishes to all residents of the Indian Wells and Searles valleys for a safe and healthy New Year.