Tehachapi News

Water district board approves annual priority ordinance, schedules Cummings Basin public hearing

- BY CLAUDIA ELLIOTT Claudia Elliott is a freelance journalist and former editor of the Tehachapi News. She lives in Tehachapi and can be reached by email: claudia@ claudiaell­iott.net.

A water priority ordinance approved by the Board of Directors of Tehachapi-Cummings County Water District on Feb. 15 does not substantia­lly differ from priorities establishe­d in previous years, although changes were made in language throughout the ordinance.

It will only be needed if the State Water Project does not provide enough imported water to meet all customer demands, as has been the case in many recent years.

In November the district’s customers made their requests for imported water to be delivered in 2023. According to General Manager Tom Neisler, it would take at least a 41 percent allocation of imported water to meet those requests. In the past 10 years the allocation has been above 40 percent only three times — and it’s been below 40 percent seven times.

This year’s initial allocation was only 5 percent of what is called the Table A allocation. On Jan. 26, the allocation was increased to 30 percent. It’s still possible that the Department of Water Resources may increase the allocation, but it could also lower the allocation. The purpose of the annual ordinance is to establish priorities for allocation of imported water.

As in the past, the highest priority, as required by law, is to maintain enough water in the district’s system to provide for fire suppressio­n all year. The next highest priority is direct delivery to the district’s M&I (municipal and industrial) customers for regular and term M&I uses including constructi­on water.

And following that are agricultur­al uses with livestock and food crops giving varying levels of priority over non-food crops.

Given a lower priority is what is called conjunctiv­e use water for current year demand and recharge water for groundwate­r banking.

The first of those — conjunctiv­e use water for current year demand — is a particular concern for Golden Hills Community Services District because, according to General Manager Susan Wells, that district is unable to take direct delivery of water from the district because there is no pipeline to district lands and thus, she contends. As an M&I customer, she believes it should be given a higher priority than ag water.

In a workshop held Feb. 3, Schultz said he understood her concern but disagreed.

Wells and Jay Schlosser, developmen­t services district for the city of Tehachapi, expressed disappoint­ment with the board’s decision.

The city and Golden Hills have lobbied the board for more than two years to involve them in the water priority policy decision which the two agencies contend should be developed longterm rather than on an annual basis.

They have also challenged what they contend is favoritism to agricultur­al customers in light of the fact that residentia­l property owners — through ad valorem taxes — pay a higher percentage of the district’s overhead to import water.

“We continue to disagree with this ordinance and feel that it massively mis-prioritize­s where you send your water,” Schlosser told the board.

Wells concurred.

“I, too, want to voice my concern that I don’t feel like any … substantiv­e changes (were made) to this ordinance,” she said. “And I’m not going to rehash (the concerns). I am disappoint­ed, however.”

But board President Robert Schultz disagreed.

He said that the Feb. 3 special meeting workshop at which both Golden Hills and the city had representa­tives allowed clarity and that the district made changes in many areas of the ordinance that were unclear.

“I do believe that we’ve made changes that were directly part of the meeting that we had as a roundtable discussion,” Schultz said. “I think the line-by-line discussion was valuable for both parties. And I felt as if we did a very good job of addressing a number of the concerns regarding clarifying the document.”

New board member John Ables abstained from voting on the ordinance. The vote was 4-0 to approve it with Schultz and Directors Jonathan Hall, Joseph Sasia and Rick Zanutto all voting in favor.

What’s next? Because the state’s water supplies have been improved by storms that brought rain and snow, Neisler said it’s possible that the SWP allocation will be increased and the priority ordinance won’t be needed.

He expects that a new allocation may be announced by the end of February.

But the district must also contend with Cummings Basin groundwate­r allocation­s and has scheduled a special meeting for a public hearing at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, March 7. The meeting will be held at district headquarte­rs, 22901 Banducci Road, Tehachapi.

At the Feb. 15 meeting the board heard a report from Neisler concerning those allocation­s.

He explained that the Amended and Restated Judgment for the Adjudicati­on of the Cummings Basin — referred to as the ARJ — was approved by the Kern County Superior Court on Jan. 5, 2021 and implemente­d on Jan. 1, 2022.

The purpose of the ARJ was to ensure groundwate­r allocation­s that will sustain the basin.

Neisler said scheduling and publicatio­n constraint­s mean the district will be about a week behind meeting the March 1 deadline to notify pumpers of their allocation this year.

The board expects to approve the Cummings Basin allocation­s following the March 7 public hearing.

 ?? CLAUDIA ELLIOTT / FOR TEHACHAPI NEWS ?? Farmland in the Cummings Valley has been prepared for irrigation.
CLAUDIA ELLIOTT / FOR TEHACHAPI NEWS Farmland in the Cummings Valley has been prepared for irrigation.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States