RAND COMMUNITIES WATER DISTRICT
PO BOX 198 RANDSBURG CA 93554
PHONE: 760-374-2414 FAX:760-374-2128
October 28, 2013
VIA FAX, U.S. Mail, and Hand Delivery
Craig M. Murphy, Division Chief
Planning and Community Development Department
County of Kern
2700 “M” Street, Suite 100
Bakersfield, CA 93301-2323
RE: Comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Report for the Fremont Valley Preservation Project by AquaHelio Resources, LLC (SCH # 2012111014)--GPA #2, Map #114; GPA #3, Map #133; GPA #2, Map #134; GPA #2, Map #135; GPA #3, Map #152; ZCC #3, Map #114; ZCC #13, Map #133; ZCC #9, Map #152; CUP #1, Map #114; CUP #2, Map #114; CUP #13, Map #133; CU#14, Map #133; CUP #4, Map #134; CUP #1, Map #135; CUP #12, Map #152; CUP #13, Map #152; Cancellation #12-2
Dear Mr. Murphy:
On behalf of the Rand Communities Water District (“District”), we appreciate and welcome the opportunity to comment on the Fremont Valley Preservation Project (“Proposed Project”) Draft Environmental Impact Report (“DEIR”).
In that the DEIR ignores the District’s existence and our role in providing water to communities within the Fremont Valley, we want to apprise you of the District’s critical role to those citizens that actually reside in the Fremont Valley area and that are most exposed to the impacts of the Proposed Project.
The District is a “county water district” and provides potable water service to four communities within unincorporated Kern and San Bernardino Counties. These communities include Randsburg and Johannesburg in Kern County, and Red Mountain and Atolia in San Bernardino County. Our District boundaries, established when the Local Agency Formation Commission of Kern County formed the District, is composed of 9 townships; 6 in Kern and 3 in San Bernardino Counties. (See Enclosure (1): Map of RCWD Boundaries.) A small portion in Kern County (ten square miles) was annexed by California City as part of their corporate boundaries, leaving 314 square miles in the Sphere of Influence of the District.
The District currently has approximately 280 active connections with 400 possible in the system. The District estimates that the population within the District is approximately 400 citizens, many with generational ties to Kern County.
In 2012, the District pumped approximately 65 acre-feet (AF) of water from the District wells. Currently, the District has sufficient supply from its existing well to serve the existing water demand of the District. The District largely serves residential uses, which utilize over 85 percent of the District’s water deliveries.
The District's only supply of water is obtained from two wells located approximately 7 miles northwest of Randsburg, or 2 miles east of Garlock. After being pumped, the water is transported through 7 miles of transmission lines and through three pumping stations to the District's first water storage tank located between Randsburg and Johannesburg. Two tanks in Red Mountain 3 more miles distant provide additional water storage and complete the RCWD system.
Despite the statement in Section 4.15.2 of the DEIR that “[t]he project’s four sites are located across a wide area where no public water system exists,” the Proposed Project's Randsburg/Saltdale properties are located entirely within the District’s boundaries and comprise about 40% of the overall project’s acreage. Our wells are located only about 2 miles northeast of the Randsburg/Saltdale properties, and we have utilized them for our water for 40 years. (See Enclosure 2: FVPP and RCWD Wells).
As you can see, our resources are extremely limited and, because the District's location is geographically separate from other agencies and large population areas within the County, there are no other government options to share water facilities or otherwise provide water within the District’s boundaries. With that background in mind, we hope that you will carefully consider our comments.
Failure to Meaningfully Consult and Notify the District of the Proposed Project
At the outset, we have to note that the native groundwater extraction portion of the Proposed Project was not clearly mentioned in the Notice of Preparation (NOP) published by the County on November 6, 2012. This is a significant addition to what was outlined in the NOP, and it leaves us wondering what good the NOP really is when changes of this magnitude are allowed in a project AFTER the NOP is published and the scoping hearing is held. The District certainly would have voiced greater concern for the Proposed Project at the scoping hearing held on November 30, 2012 than we did had this facet of the Proposed Project been revealed at that time.
We also note that our water district and the community itself were completely ignored during the DEIR preparation process. We first learned of the Proposed Project from an executive of the Indian Wells Valley Water District and when property owners in the Johannesburg townsite emailed me about a presentation on the Proposed Project that was scheduled to be made by the project proponent, and that the District had been mentioned as being supposedly contacted by AquaHelio regarding assistance in upgrading our infrastructure. I have served as General Manager since December, 2010 and worked for the District since February, 2008, and I have never been contacted by AquaHelio. AquaHelio was a “no- show” on the first date scheduled for a presentation. Then, after their presentation on November 15, 2012, I approached a representative of AquaHelio, gave the person my business card, and asked if I could please get a copy of the presentation that they had just given. They said “yes” but I never received anything from them. A presentation at Antelope Valley-East Kern Water Agency (AVEK) was scheduled and I went there for that purpose, but at the last moment, AquaHelio cancelled that presentation as well. I subsequently discovered they had a web site, and left contact information and requested the presentation again. They emailed me back saying that the presentation as given was to be modified extensively and therefore once the revised edition was finished they would send me that. We have never received that either. Simply put, to say that AquaHelio has failed to reach out and explain this project to the Fremont Valley community is an understatement.
Misleading Project Objective and Description
The DEIR’s flawed project objective and description deprives the community and the County Board of Supervisors of the informed participation and decision making required by CEQA. In particular, the “proposed project also includes a native water extraction for off-site use component, with production and distribution for sale of up to 114,000 acre-feet per year (AF/Y) of native water to off-site uses.” Yet, pages and pages of hydrological studies of the basin referenced in Appendix H to the DEIR consistently show an sustainable annual yield of roughly 15,000 AF/Y. We have a simple question: why does the project description provide for the annual extraction of native water that the DEIR’s own studies demonstrates does not exist? This necessarily raises the concern that the applicant has in fact failed to fully disclose the extent of water resources within the basin. Such a failure to disclose would be further compounded by the fact that the applicant is segmenting the actual project by “waiting” to seek the necessary CUP to export water outside of the County.
Failure to Describe Potential Impacts to Water Supply and Water Quality
The Proposed Project’s impacts to water are systematically underestimated because all of the studies cited in the DEIR are based on additional native extraction of approximately 10,500 AF/Y. Yet, even if there is constant monitoring of groundwater levels, the potential cone of depression could be a major impact resulting from the proposed 114,000 AF/Y extraction of native water that could severely impact available groundwater even if pumping were stopped in response to water level monitoring activities. Not a single study in the DEIR attempts to tell us the hydrogeology impacts (even for one year) of extracting 114,000 AF of native water. Yet the Proposed Project proponent request precisely that potential appropriation of native water.
Likewise, major impacts to water quality from the storage/recharge component of the Proposed Project are given only cursory treatment in the DEIR. The DEIR systematically avoids analyzing the impacts to actual end users (like the District’s water customers) of injecting highly impure State Water Project or Los Angeles Aqueduct water and intermingling it with pristine groundwater the District currently provides to its customers. Instead, the DEIR “cherry picks” low-quality wells to conclude that introduction of water from the State or Los Angeles will “improve” the water quality while failing to test existing water quality in wells that actual serve drinking water to the greater Fremont Valley community -- such as the District’s well, and Rancho Seco’s well in Cantil. Yet the nitrate and nitrite data shows “none detected” (ND) for the Randsburg/Saltdale properties. Really?! That result is just not believable.
In our view, evidence of the cherry picking is rather obvious. The District’s pristine water is provided to its customers without treatment and meets all State and federal drinking water standards, with the exception of our back-up well having arsenic at 20 parts per billion which we are remediating. We are not aware of any water quality experts that take the position that water taken directly from the State Water Project or Los Angeles Aqueduct are suitable for human consumption without treatment. To conclude that the injection of untreated State Water Project or Los Angeles Aqueduct water into the aquifer will somehow “improve” the quality of the native water (particularly the native water extracted by the District for its customers) is truly nonsensical.
The DEIR Proposes the Creation of “Committees” Rather than Actually Determine the Project’s Impact to Water Resources.
Nowhere is it more clear that the project proponents simply has no idea as to the impacts of the Proposed Project than in the mitigation measures proposed for impacts to water resources. With respect to impacts to groundwater levels, the DEIR largely answers with a measure to form a “Monitoring Committee.” Given that the DEIR fails to even provide a study on the expected impacts of the proposed 114,000 AF/Y native water drawdown, we are left to guess as to what quantifiable measures will guide that committee’s oversight.
It is simply not enough to form a “committee.” These mitigation steps need to be defined, established and in place BEFORE the Project is given the green-light to go forward. If not, we may not have enough time to avert a disaster, one that could render the groundwater basin impaired permanently. And, while a “Joint Powers Authority” is mentioned, there is no assurance that it will be formed. Despite this “if formed” status, the “JPA shall be the lead agency for the preparation of the IRWMP and SMP by AquaHelio.” And if JPA is not formed?
More disturbing is the fact that the DEIR purports to provide mitigation measures for the hydrological impacts of the Proposed Project that will renders those impacts “less than significant” (DIER, Table 1-6) all the while that the County’s own consultant proclaims just the opposite:
“Accordingly, the proposed production of 114,000 acre feet per year (AFY) of native water has the potential to cause significant unmitigated impacts to the Fremont Valley Groundwater Basin by causing subsidence, unknown supply impacts, and potentially irreversible groundwater quality degradation.” (DEIR, Appendix H, GEI Consultant letter to County dated August 13, 2013, emphasis added.)
But there is more. GEI Consultants confirm our point above that the DEIR does not in any manner analyze the impacts of the proposed 114,000 AF/Y extraction by concluding in the very next sentence that:
“These potentially significant impacts cannot feasibly be mitigated at this time given the lack of data.”
And this is simply at the heart of our point. How can the County approve a project to extract 114,000 AF/Y of native water when its own consultant confesses that there is no data to evaluate the impacts of that level of extraction? And, given this admission, how is it that the DEIR somehow concludes that the Proposed Project’s impact on water resources, following mitigation, will be “less than significant” in every instance yet it “lacks data” of those very impacts?
In summary, the DEIR fails to disclose the impacts of the proposed 114,000 AF/Y drawdown because the DEIR failed at the most basic level – the preparers of the DEIR opted to not perform an analysis of the impacts. It then goes on to declare that, despite not having data on the impact, these unknown impacts will be mitigated by the GMMMP. This is a rather astonishing leap of faith and certainly not one allowed under CEQA.
Clearly, we are very concerned that our water supply is endangered by the Proposed Project’s potential effects to our water quality and quantity. We rely on this water for our very existence. It is therefore critical that the Proposed Project should only proceed after presentation of a complete and thorough EIR. By failing to even analyze the impacts of the proposed 114,000 AF/Y drawdown of native water and then coupling that failure with the incomprehensible conclusion that State Water Project water injected into the pristine waters accessed by the District will somehow “improve” water quality, the DEIR can only be described as shoddy. The County of Kern along with its citizens in the Fremont Valley deserve better. A new EIR should be prepared. I do not feel that the draft environmental impact report addresses the issues adequately for all possible scenarios that would protect our water district's water supply.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide these comments.
Very truly yours,
Michael A Powell, RCWD Gen. Manager
Enclosure (1) Map of RCWD Boundries
(area inside district boundry is improvement district)
Enclosure (2): FVPP Randsburg/Saltdale and RCWD Wells