Board talks cost of service, GSA participation

At the end of the Indian Wells Valley Water District's three hour workshop — which paved the path for the district's direction through the next few months — board president Peter Brown said, "I'm always paranoid when things are running too well, and things are running well here. So all I can think of is earthquakes now."

Water District staff quickly assured him that they regularly go over checklists and equipment in preparation for potential earthquakes. Brown will have to find something else to feel paranoid about, so long as things continue to run well.

Despite the length of the workshop, discussion moved along swiftly and productively. The board brought up heated topics, found concession, approved action, and moved forward.

Major items discussed at the workshop included opening a new cost of service study and offering guidance to the IWV Groundwater Authority.

Cost of service study

The board agreed to conduct a new cost of service study. Rather than Water District staff conducting the study, they will look for an outside contractor to perform it. Tyrell Staheli, the Water District's new chief financial officer, will put together the request for proposal and begin sorting through contractor applications within the next month.

Board members were in consensus about wanting an update on their cost of service, the only question was how to perform it. Discussion primarily revolved around whether the cost of service study should be based on the district's current tier system or if it should be budget-based. The latter would open the door for the contractor to propose a model that might be quite different from the current tier system.

"When I'm looking for something new, I want to see all the options out there," Brown said. He explained that he wasn't hearing any opposition to a budget-based system, but he just wanted to continue the discussion in order to hear if there were any other potential options.

Board member Chuck Griffin questioned how potential fees from the new IWV Groundwater Authority could affect the study, and whether it might be better to hold off on the study until they knew the costs of IWVGA's plans.

Water District legal council James Worth explained that it should be okay to go forward with the cost of service study now because the board can include contingency plans in the cost of service study for incurring potential fees from the IWVGA in the future.

After discussion, the board agreed to send out request for proposals for contractors to conduct a budget based cost of service study, which may end up keeping the current tier system or may end up suggesting a different structure.

IWV Groundwater Authority

Water District board member Ron Kicinski opened up discussion on the IWVGA. He said, "I want to be clear that I believe our representation on the [IWVGA] board is fine. My concern is with the staff portion of it."

For months, the board has expressed frustrations at its monthly board meetings about not receiving the agenda for IWVGA meetings before the Water District's board meeting.

The Water District's board meetings typically occur shortly before the monthly IWVGA meetings. The Water District's board of directors would like to give Brown, their representative on the IWVGA board, suggested direction for action at the IWVGA, but they rarely can because IWVGA staff hasn't sent them the meeting's agenda in time for the Water District's meeting.

IWVGA directors from Kern County, Inyo County, and San Bernardino County have each stated that their agency has given them authority to generally take action at IWVGA board meetings according to their own judgement, and then to debrief their agencies on action taken at later meetings.

However, the Water District has a different approach. The board of directors discuss IWVGA action at their board meetings, then vote on the direction Brown should take at the IWVGA meetings. A task made more difficult when they can't be sure what action items will be on the agenda.

"That’s why there’s so much angst," Brown said. "It should be early, but it’s not."

Some board members also expressed frustration because IWVGA is hiring important staff positions without Water District board members being able to weigh in on the decision. IWVGA recently hired an independent attorney and expects to soon hire a Water Resources Manager, a person with significant influence in the ultimate development of the Groundwater Sustainability Plan which IWVGA is tasked with creating.

"If they hire [a Water Resources Manager], I think we should be involved in that decision. I think the board as a whole should be able to see the applicants and say who we like," Griffin said. "Then we can give that to our representative so he can go to the meeting and tell him that this is who the Water District would like to vote for."

Water District General Manager Don Zdeba noted that sometimes that's not how boards work. He used himself as an example, stating that the Water District board hired him as a general manager, and that makes him responsible for hiring staff. He isn't required to bring every candidate to the board first. The board delegated that responsibility to Zdeba because he is the Water District general manager.

The IWVGA, too, has its own general manager in Alan Christensen.

Griffin responded, "This board hired you, and we’re involved in [the IWVGA board]. So I think this board should be involved in the hiring of the Water Resources Manager, and then if the Water Resources Manager needs to hire someone down the road, that’s his responsibility."

In order to communicate its ideas to IWVGA staff, the Water District board agreed to send a memo, prepared by their own ad hoc committee, which explains certain problems they have and thoughts on how to keep IWVGA running more smoothly in the future.