All residents and organizations within the Indian Wells Valley will have to implement register their wells come Oct. 1 following the approval of an ordinance by the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority board of directors.

The board passed the ordinance unanimously at its Thursday board meeting as part of the agency’s ongoing efforts to collect data for a required groundwater sustainability plan.

According to IWV Water District attorney James Worth, who acts as lead legal counsel for the IWVGA in 2019, it is a critical component in developing that plan.

“It is the IWVGA’s opinion that every well in the basin, whether de minims or not, be registered so we can continue to collect new data and better understand the basin,” Worth said.

The GSP is a roadmap for managing the basin and an attempt to achieve a sustainable safe yield over the next 20 years; the plan is due to the California Department of Water Resources on Jan. 31, 2020. The plan is required under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014.

The ordinance was introduced at the board’s July hearing. It is a follow-up version to one approved in 2018 that required all major pumpers, from agriculture to Searles Valley Minerals and the IWV Water District, to register their wells.

De minims users (well owners/operators who pump less than two acre-feet of water per year for domestic reasons) were exempt following a revision of the 2018 ordinance after blowback from the public.

The ordinance was slightly revised to scrub the word “private” from its language.

The 2018 ordinance also established a monthly $35/acre-foot pump fee on the large pumpers. Under the new well registration mandate, de minims users are still exempt from the fee under SGMA guidelines.

Anyone who receives their sole source of water from a public utility like the IWV Water District or Inyokern Community Services District will be exempt from registering.

Worth said the IWVGA can enact and enforce the ordinance under California Water Code Section 10725.6. That section states “A groundwater sustainability agency (GSA) may require registration of a groundwater extraction facility within the management area of the groundwater sustainability agency.”

Board president Ron Kicinski, who represents the IWV Water district on the IVWGA board, stressed that no registration fee will be implemented for de minims users.

Resident Don Decker, who also serves on the IVWGA technical advisory committee representing domestic well owners, said the mandate is without a doubt required.

“However, what is missing is the outreach part … it remains an issue, I think.” Decker said.

Resident Sarah Zegers asked about registration fees that came from a state-produced pamphlet about SGMA.

She also mentioned that the guidelines under SGMA allow GSA boards to authorize inspections and obtain an inspection warrant for wells.

Kicinski said that there was no well registration fee at the moment under the IWVGA’s ordinance.

The California State Water Resources Control Board has established a schedule of fees under SGMA. However, those fees would only be implemented under an emergency regulation procedure in case it assumed regulation of the management of the basin.

Registration form concerns

A few members of the public had concerns about the registration form itself, which was approved by resolution following the ordinance adoption.

The form asks questions such as primary contact information, the current type of water use related to the well, annual water use and information about the well itself (physical location, county permit number, year installed, depth and ground elevation, among other things).

During public comment, Decker reiterated a previous concern that confusion exists between the form and the requirements a de minimis well owner has.

“The form has places for information that do not pertain to de minimis users at all,” Decker said. He advised there should be instructions to skip over sections that don’t pertain to de minimis users.

The form in Section 3 under “Domestic/Residential Users” allows well owners to check that they are de minimis users or to declare they use more than two acre-feet a year. The latter requires those type of domestic well owners to fill out pumping volume for 2010 to 2014 and for 2018.

A previous section allows well owners to check the box on what the well is used for, whether residential only, residential landscape, agricultural or commercial and industrial.

Decker stressed while the form is suited for general use, it could still be confusing.

“The confusion resulting from having the information requested for metering and so on is simply not important or appropriate for de minimis purpose,” Decker said.

Ridgecrest resident Nick Panzer, who sits on the policy advisory committee, said he sees the registration form as all-encompassing.

“Certainly it covers de minimis users, but it also is intended to cover the additional information that the GA would need to regulate the amount of pumping by class,” he said. “I don’t think we have enough water for every de minimis user to take two-acre feet a year.”

He added that the particular issue should be addressed by the IWVGA board as an important aspect.

He said everything in the form is necessary.

Kicinski agreed with Panzer that information asked for in the registration form will be critical. He also agreed that people could seem overwhelmed when first receiving it.

“It is a tough decision by our water resources manager and his group,” Kicinski said. “How do you come up with a form that gets us the information we need but doesn’t appear so complicated that people don’t want to fill it out? I don’t have the answer to that; I believe there may be a way (to do that).”

Kicinski added that he feels most people are capable enough to fill out the form or make a phone call to ask about it.

“It is important that we gather this information,” he said. “The more information, the better.”

Phil Hall, Kern County’s deputy general counsel, noted that if someone checks the ‘de minimis user’ box, then for general purposes they are done with the form, aside from a name, address of well, and contact information.

Kern County First District Supervisor Mick Gleason, who represents Kern County on the board, said he doesn’t’ see an issue in the form.

“All I want to do is get to first base, I’m not interested in a home run,” he said. “I’m trying to get information and let people know they need to do certain things in order to comply with SGMA.”

Gleason added he would like to see something more simple, but agreed with the board approval.

Kicinski asked for a modification to the form to include wording based on Hall’s information.