The Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority board of directors, at its meeting Nov. 17, talked shop about two committees that will help shape policy and technical details for the future groundwater sustainability agency.

The board, in a 5-0 vote, approved the membership list for its policy advisory committee. The members include the five general members of the IWVGA/GSA — representatives from Inyo, Kern and San Bernardino counties, the city of Ridgecrest and the Indian Wells Valley Water District, a representative from each of the two associate members (Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake and the Bureau of Land Management), two members for large agriculture interests (Meadowbrook and Mojave Pistachios), one member from small agriculture interests, two seats for business interests and two for domestic well owners, one for planning (from Kern County), one from environmental interests (the Eastern Kern County Resource Conservation District) and one seat from industrial interests (Searles Valley Minerals).

The IWVGA is tasked by the state of California per the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act to form a groundwater sustainability agency by June 30, 2017. Those committees, according to board members, will help shape the policies and mechanisms to help finance it.

According to Kern County Assistant County Administrative Officer Alan Christensen, who spearheads staff effort for the IWVGA, setting the committee membership list was the primary goal.

“Our goal was to set the membership of the policy advisory committee,” Christensen said.

The nature of the technical committee, along with charters for both, remain in limbo until January.

The political advisory committee’s charter would essentially be to provide advice and recommendations to the board regarding development and implementation of the GSA’s groundwater sustainability plan, which must be in place by January 2020. The GSP would require a sustainable aquifer within 20 years of its implementation.

The GSP is a requirement for all groundwater basins in California designated as being in critical overdraft — medium or high priority. Once formed, the GSA could in theory institute fees or fines to help pay for development of the plan, and to enforce it after it is in place.

The state provided a grant to the IWVGA to help development and implement the GSA.

The technical advisory committee, on the other hand, met with some discussion from staff and board members.

The proposed membership of the committee is similar to the policy advisory committee: one member each from Inyo, Kern and San Bernardino counties, the city of Ridgecrest and the Indian Wells Valley Water District, one from NAWS China Lake and the BLM, one domestic well owner, two from agriculture interests (Meadowbrook and Mojave Pistachios), one industrial stakeholder (SVM), one from Kern County Water Agency and the IWVGA consultant.

Who sits on the committee, once approved by the board, depends on a set of requirements: formal education and experience in water/groundwater-related fields, technical background including geology and hydrology, and not be a political appointee or elected official.

Peter Brown, the IWVWD’s representative to the groundwater authority, said he was pleased with the look of the policy committee, but voiced concern over the technical one.

He suggested that since the Indian Wells Valley Cooperative Groundwater Management Group’s steering committee already functioned in a similar role and had experienced members, it could perhaps be incorporated into the future GSA.

“I think that would be cleaner and it’s already working,” Brown said. “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”

Christensen noted the cooperative group did work well, but added the GSA is a whole new organization being from the ground up.

“You could leave the TAC in place and continue to function in place, independent of this organization,” he said. However, he added that since all five general members are public, governmental agencies, committees may be subject to the Ralph M. Brown Act, and thus open to the public.

Christensen said the Indian Wells Valley Cooperative Groundwater Management Group’s committee, as an outside agency, has more flexibility to determine what it thinks best for the IWV groundwater basin.

Kern County deputy county counsel Phil Hall said he would have to look into Brown’s suggestion and the makeup of the Indian Wells Valley Cooperative Groundwater Management Group and its relation to the GSA.

“There are several potential legal red flags there,” Hall said. “I have to look into those puzzle pieces because we are getting into an area outside the GSA.”

Brown noted the Indian Wells Valley Cooperative Groundwater Management Group’s committees are driven by data, and as a group,make decisions and recommendations due to a free flow of information among its member agencies.

Inyo County Supervisor Matt Kingsley said he did not know how much of a role his agency would play in the technical committee. However, he voiced some concerns.

“The overall goal of SGMA is for locals to solve their problems, and certainly the intent there was if locals were doing something effective, they could keep doing that to continue addressing their problems,” Kingsley said. He said that it appears the Indian Wells Valley Cooperative Groundwater Management Group to be doing a fine job. “That really makes sense.”

Ridgecrest Mayor Peggy Breeden agreed, but added a representative from a mutual water group should be included in the committee structure.

Kern County Supervisor Mick Gleason, chairman of the IWVGA board, noted that he had attended an Indian Wells Valley Cooperative Groundwater Management Group meeting and commented that a presentation given there focused entirely on water.

“After an hour and a half, I realized I was at a meeting that they were talking completely about water and no one was throwing anything at each other,” Gleason said. “They were discussing water, and there was no politics, no news and that was refreshing.”

IWVGA consultant Tim Parker the big challenge remains how to have open, unconstrained dialogue at a technical committee level. He added that expanding membership to a domestic well owner also needs to be researched. Many members of the cooperative groundwater group’s technical committee come to the table expertise that delves into the deep end of groundwater.

He also noted people are concerned with the idea of private meetings that might impact decision making on an important public topic.

“That’s not the case, it’s about having that unrestrained technical discussion,” Parker said.

Don Decker, a member of the public, said the cooperative groundwater group is fully prepared to go forward with membership on both IWVGA committees once they are formed.

The board voted 5-0 to approve the policy advisory committee membership, and return to discuss the technical committee as a whole at later date.