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County wants exemption from groundwater bill

June 9, 2014

Inyo County Water Director Bob Harrington

With California enduring its third consecutive drought year, two water-related bills that may impact the Owens Valley are being pushed through the state legislative process.
According to Inyo Water Director Bob Harrington the Water Bond legislation will likely bring money to the area to the area for regional water management planning, water system funding and watershed restoration projects. However, the more controversial, and more “complicated” measure, Harrington said, is the statewide Groundwater Management legislation.
“One of the reasons it’s so confusing is because there are a whole bunch of bills proposed by different legislators, but it’s really just two different efforts,” Harrington said.
Harrington said that California is the only state in the West without a comprehensive system for groundwater management and County wants
exemption from groundwater bill state oversight of groundwater pumping. “Because of the drought, and the number of basins throughout the state that really have severe problems of overdraft,” the state is looking into an oversight program that will have farmers in the central valley and others reporting how much water they pump.
Currently, there is no such regulation, Harrington said.
Harrington said that, through the Long-term Water Agreement between Inyo County and Los Angles, the Owens Valley has a comprehensive groundwater management program, with checks and balances, that ensures that groundwater overdraft is avoided.
Last week, the Board of Supervisors agreed the county should be exempt from the legislation. However, Harrington explained that a section of the LTWA prevents either L.A. or Inyo County from weighing in on water-related legislation without the other entity on board.
“The Water Agreement binds us to coordinate with L.A. on any groundwater legislation and neither L.A. nor Inyo County may support or oppose groundwater right legislation without the other” to prevent either party from promoting legislation that will compromise the agreement, Harrington explained.
The board will meet today, Tuesday, June 10, to consider a letter to LADWP officials requesting a joint letter to the state requesting an exemption from the groundwater management proposal.
“We have to have that consultation with L.A. to get the legislature to recognize that we already have a groundwater management program,” Harrington said. “Right now pumping is one-third of the recharge. We’re well managed. And through the Water Agreement, we have access to the LADWP’s records” to prove how much water is being pumped.
Harrington said the water bond issue is less contentious, but it does have its opponents. “Our hope is money for the valley, but the big controversial piece is that there’s money for the construction of new dams and reservoirs in the Central Valley.”
Harrington said that work is underway to refine the proposal, with some groups advocating for less money on the engineering projects, and more for restoration. “I think it’s moving pretty quickly” and no matter what the outcome is, it should provide at least some funding for projects in the Owens Valley.
The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to meet in the County Administrative Center in Independence at 10 a.m. today to further discuss the state water legislation.

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