At its board meeting on Thursday, the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority received a presentation on the progress of the data management system being developed by Stetson Engineers Inc., the firm acting as their Water Resources Manager. Implementing a data management system is necessary for IWVGA to comply with California state's Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

The idea of the data management system is simple, but there's a deep well of complexity in developing and maintaining it. The idea is to have a system the quality and water levels at numerous groundwater well locations throughout IWV, allowing IWVGA to monitor progress towards their goal of achieving groundwater sustainability in IWV.

To get that system going, Stetson needs to collect not just enough data, but the right data. Stetson lead engineer Steve Reich, who gave the presentation on Thursday, said that they're working to make sure that the monitoring wells they're using for the data management system are wells that will give them the best idea of how well the IWV groundwater basin is surviving. The data management system will track water levels, pumping rates, water quality, and more.

Adding to the complexity of the test, there have been discussions at IWVGA board meetings, IWV Water District board meetings, and at IWVGA Technical Advisory Committee meetings in recent months about whether a data management system is even needed at all.

IWVGA hired Stetson Engineers at the Aug. 17, 2017 board meeting. Two of the first tasks given to Stetson were to complete and file applications for grant funding and to begin developing a data management system.

Stetson quickly got to work on filling out and filing the grant application, which they recently learned was successful. California Department of Water Resources issued a statement that it would award IWVGA $2,146,000 in grant funding, the full amount requested by IWVGA, assuming it holds up after a public comment period which ends on Feb. 21.

Stetson also quickly got to work on the data management system, even showing an early draft of the website at a combined IWVGA committee meeting on Oct. 12.

At the IWVGA's Technical Advisory Committee meeting on Jan. 4, committee members called into question how the Stetson data management system will or won't cooperate with the other hydrogeological data management systems being developed for the IWV groundwater basin. As the discussion developed, committee members began questioning if the Stetson data management system was needed at all.

One of the other data management systems that have mostly been talked about in these discussions has been the data management system, which is being developed for three groundwater basins in California, one of which is IWV. The SkyTEM project is a partnership between California state, water agencies from the three basins, and the Kingdom of Denmark because SkyTEM is a Danish company. The project began by using a helicopter to fly sensors over the IWV basin, aiming to provide the clearest hydrogeological model of the basin yet.

The argument against Stetson's data management system has been that the SkyTEM project looks to be far more thorough, using its high tech gear and monitoring data from over a thousand wells. On top of that, it's already been paid for. The IWV Water District said the contact for the database will be in their name and they will let IWVGA use it.

On the other hand, the IWVGA data management system is aiming to only use just over 30 monitoring wells, and IWVGA must pay Stetson for any of its services. Some committee members and IWVGA board members felt this was a waste of money spent on a duplication of effort.

Stetson has said in many of these discussions that there is a value unique to the Stetson database because they are building it specifically to meet IWVGA's water sustainability mission and to comply with California's Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. IWVGA board member Mick Gleason has also stated that while the SkyTEM data management system may be very thorough and high tech, he wants IWVGA to have a system entirely their own.

“I have issues with any agency other than this board having direct ownership of that product. I’d like to have control of that when we want to take action," Gleason said at the Jan. 18 IWVGA board meeting. Once Stetson has finished developing the data management system, it will belong entirely to IWVGA.

Stetson has said that there is value in having a system built specifically for groundwater sustainability, and Reich displayed some of those features during his presentation at the meeting on Thursday. He displayed how IWVGA will be able to track the water levels in the various monitoring wells in the system, but then also set threshold levels and trigger levels that would call the attention of the IWVGA if the water levels fell below sustainability goals.

Additionally, Reich showed that the website they're building for the system also holds a library of information and studies concerning groundwater in IWV.

At the meeting on Thursday, Stetson president Steven Johnson also pointed out that the grant application they had already sent in set aside planned expenditures for developing a data management system. Now with the state declaring that it will award grant funds to IWVGA, the grant funds will offset at least some of the funds paid to Stetson for the development of the IWVGA data management system.

Johnson also vowed to work cooperatively with the SkyTEM project and import any and all data from their project that he can into the IWVGA system.

Johnson did not ignore the heated discussions that have been going on concerning the data management system for the past month. While he has stated that there is value in IWVGA having its own system, he acknowledged that there has been a lot of confusion over the past months that could have been resolved with better communication.

"I want to apologize for what appears to be not really good communication and coordination. It should have been better," he said. "I take all the responsibility for that. My goal is to never let that happen again."

"Going forward, I want to make the commitment to you folks that this is my job and I'm going to make sure I do my job," he said. "I think we're on the same page on where we're going at this point."