Eastern Kern County Resource Conservation District
300 South Richmond Road, Ridgecrest, CA 93555
4 November 2013
Ms. Lorelei Oviatt, Director
Planning and Community Development Department
2700 M Street, Suite 100
Bakersfield, California 93301-2323
Re: Fremont Valley Preservation Water Bank Project
Dear Ms. Oviatt:
The Board of Directors of the Resource Conservation District have grave concerns about this project. Our concerns include but are not limited to the following:
(1) This DEIR attempts to address several separate projects: solar facility, water banking – percolation ponds, 40 injection wells, and withdrawal and transmission of native groundwater within the watershed and within and outside Kern County. The resulting document is contradictory and confusing. It might be better to separate, at least solar from the rest of the water projects. The solar might remain as a project EIR, but the water elements clearly should be addressed as a program EIR.
As it stands, it does not thoroughly address the 40 injection wells and the water banking through percolation ponds. It does not address decommissioning except for the solar facility. It does not address the specifics of the withdrawal/transmission of native groundwater through systems within the watershed area and/or within other parts of Kern County as well as outside of Kern County.
Page 3-42 (p.300 of 965) the document states that “This EIR is not intended to provide any necessary review that may be required under CEQA for conveyance improvements needed to move native groundwater from the Fremont Valley watershed to both outside the watershed and outside of Kern County. Yet the DEIR states that native groundwater will be delivered to China Lake NAWS (or wherever the Board of Supervisors determines to send its 10% of the native groundwater annually within the jurisdictional boundaries of Kern County). Will the water supply and transport options to the San Joaquin Valley, page 2-3 (p. 240 of 965) and “any potential future improvements, page 2-4 (p. 241 of 965) require additional CEQA and EIR work? Will all of such transfers to other sites within Kern County require another EIR to be developed? Who will be the lead agency and pay for the preparation of the environmental documents? This DEIR document needs to define more clearly how the objectives of the various phases of the project comply with Chapter 19.118 of the Kern County zoning ordinance dealing with native groundwater transfers. How, specifically, will the separate accounts for the delivery of the banked water and the withdrawal and dispensation of the native groundwater be tracked?
Also, once banked or injected water is “put” into the aquifer, how will the banked water be able to be distinguished from the native groundwater? Will the mixing of banked water and injected water with the native groundwater then nullify any restrictions on the withdrawal and conveyance of the native groundwater thus allowing the ”mixed water” to go anywhere in Southern California?
(2) On pages 4.9-30 and 4.9-31 (pp. 732 and 733 of 965), a potentially significant impact is identified. There is an estimated “164,000 AF of past native recharge available in the basin”. The available known data shows that the annual native groundwater recharge is estimated to be 15,000 to 17,000 AFY. How can this recharge and amount in storage support an annual withdrawal of 114,000 AFY? Please explain the discrepancy between the letter in Appendix H and the numbers you have quoted in the Revised DEIR.
Page 4.9-37 (p.739 of 965) cumulative impacts that are considered significant and unavoidable are described. “There is no certainty the implementation of the proposed water banking and native water extraction for off-site use operations would not impact adjacent landowners and/or impair the groundwater basin.” Exactly what are the impacts? What are the mitigation measures to address these impacts?
In regard to the above findings and conclusions, how are the provisions of Senate Bills 610 and 221 listed on page 4.15-7(p.890 of 965) being addressed? Where is the required assessment and detailed analysis of historic, current and projected groundwater pumping? Where is the data to show the sufficiency of the groundwater basin to sustain the Projects’ demands? Where is the supply and demand analysis over dry years for five year increments over a twenty year projection? There is no evidence of these reports in the DEIR. Identify where these reports are located so that there is an opportunity for public and agency review and comment regarding the analyses. In view of the repeated statement that there has been no objection to native water use by others in the past, we hereby state an official objection to transferring native water out of the Fremont Valley Basin because of the adverse impacts on overlying users of native water in the valley. See items (6), (11), and (12) of this document about efforts to learn about objections.
(3) Re: Page 3-43 (p. 301 of 965) All studies currently underway should be completed and available to the public for review before a decision is made regarding approval for this project in order to be certain that the phases of the project have sufficient water supplies to sustain the project over the 20 to 25 years contemplated and to justify the investment of money required to build the facilities for the project (cost/benefit analysis). Who is the independent geohydrologist or hydrology consultant firm selected for this work? Where can we find a copy of the work? Will agencies and the public have a chance to review the findings and conclusions before the decision is made regarding the project?
(4) Page 4.6-23 (p. 632 of 965). Native groundwater extraction for off-site use facility…will produce subsidence impacts if previously non-dewatered clay layers are dewatered….These potentially significant impacts cannot be mitigated ever. Operation of the water facilities could potentially raise groundwater levels, thus increasing the potential for liquefaction. In other places in the DEIR documents there are statements that subsidence has occurred and may be continuing now. P. 3-15 (p. 277of 965) states that the current rate of subsidence in the Fremont Valley is unknown. Subsidence from regional groundwater withdrawal has been an issue in the region. Fremont Valley is an active seismic area (is one of the more seismically active areas of California) that may generate ground motion subsidence stated on p. 4.6-1 (p. 610 of 965). Subsidence is likely to continue to occur P. 4.6-8 (p. 617). It is not possible to mitigate subsidence once it occurs. According to some of the studies listed in your bibliography, injecting water in this seismically active area has produced a significant increase in seismic activity. Please address this issue.
(5) The effect of mixing surface water with native groundwater is known – it could improve or could degrade water quality. Once water quality is degraded how do you reverse the damage? What are the effects of mixing chloramine with other parameters of chemicals in native groundwater? What are Hexavalent chromium 6 possibilities? The minimum toxicity standards for Hexavalent chromium 6 have recently been decreased. Is this being addressed? The Appendix H letter from GEI Consultants states there is potentially irreversible groundwater degradation.
(6) This document does not address or acknowledge historic and existing water rights of community water systems (Cantil, Rancho Seco, Fremont Valley and Rand Water District which serves Randsburg, Johannesburg, Atolia and Red Mountain) as well as those of individual well owners/landowners within the project area. These communities are not included on maps for the proposed project. There has been no access to the DEIR documents by residents in San Bernardino County (Atolia and Red Mountain areas), Inyo County (which is impacted by DWP), or in Indian Wells Valley in Kern County. P. 2-17 and 2-24 (p 254 and 261 of 965) does not list libraries in these areas as having copies of the DEIR documents. Residents in these areas must be provided with enough review time in order to make comments regarding the project. We again request extension of the comment period to 31 December 2013, understanding that comments will be accepted until the decision, but that any received after the November 18, 2013 deadline may not be considered in the decision process.
(7) The DEIR is not supported by data or facts. It is preferable to rely on data and to limit the use of assumptions whenever possible. Nowhere is this more evident than in Appendix B where large volumes of subsurface recharge are described as coming from interties to other basins and interregional interconnections from Mount Whitney through Owens Valley, through Indian Wells Valley to El Paso Basin and through a “funnel” into Fremont Valley. This concept is used in Figure 1-8 (p. 72 of 965), for example, “Water Flows Downhill”. Many pages of this “conceptual study” are presented (pp 360, 362, 418, 434, 442, 452, 465, 478, 479 of 6840) in Appendix B. In particular the Thyne, et al, report referenced in Appendix B has been questioned in the Indian Wells Valley groundwater basin studies and discussions. The Hydrology report in Appendix H in the DEIR does not identify these vast amounts of subsurface groundwater recharge.
Lorelei Oviatt presented on September 25, 2013 to the South Lahontan Regional Forum information referenced by Thyne et al, 1999 study as “hydro-geologically improbable.” The presentation also states “the Indian Wells Valley basin is in overdraft and that the Open-basin hypothesis is not supported by available data.” How will the dichotomy of these two views be resolved?
Studies should be undertaken in advance of approval or implementation of the project to quantify these volumes of recharge and determine the data and facts. Section 126.96.36.199 (p. 507) suggests that studies to develop tracking mechanisms to “fingerprint” native waters could determine whether the concept presented in the SoilWorks section of Appendix B is factual and can be quantified.
(8) As a local agency that works closely with farmers, ranchers, and landowners, we deplore the cancellation of 3,315 acres under Williamson Act contracts (p.4.2-20) and the loss of agricultural land in a state that is the nation’s top agricultural producer. Despite the fact that the impact is considered significant and unavoidable, we do understand that no agricultural production has occurred on the sites in over eight years. We recommend that Kern County designate the project area as Light Industry since the facilities proposed for the site seem to better fit that designation, and would benefit the tax base.
(9) The document states there will be flash flood impacts to the Sons property from Jawbone Canyon, flash flood impacts on the Brothers property from Red Rock Canyon, and flash flood impacts on the Cantil property from an unnamed alluvial fan wash – pp 8 and 9 (pp. 1244 and 1245 of 6840) in Appendix D. Flood flow maps and diagrams are included in Appendix J. How will these mud deposits and flash flood flows be addressed? Where does the DEIR address the changes to the floodplain caused by covering the land with mirrors? What are the impacts of flash flood on the solar panels and transmission pipelines and how will such impacts be addressed?
(10) We concur with the grave concerns expressed in the following comment letters in the DEIR and in Appendix A: p. 2-7 letter from US EPA Region 9 “concern regarding the potential of injection water to degrade the quality of aquifer water” and
P. 2-9 letter from County of Inyo Water Department – how will the project be supplied with water and need to analyze the effects of increased groundwater pumping in Owens Valley and on points upstream in the LA Aqueduct system and
P. 2-9 Letter from Los Angeles Department of Water and Power - stating no water is available for banking, it must all go to the city. The project would take all the water in the LA Aqueduct system and
p. 2-9 letter (Appendix A pp. 202-208 of 6840) from Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board – obtaining a permit and monitoring DO NOT constitute mitigation measures and
Appendix H letter from GEI Consultants – grave concerns about irreversible damage to the aquifer.
We want to know why the letter dated December 6, 2012 from Eastern Kern County RCD making comments on the Notice of Preparation for the project was not included in the DEIR, the Revised DEIR, or Appendix A of the document?
(11) The section of Appendix B labeled as ES4.2.4 (page 299 of 6840) goes in circles trying to show without proof that no one has historically objected to the use of native water. On the contrary, the people living in Fremont Valley have objected for years about overdraft and subsidence of the land. See points (6) and (12) of this document. The residents of the communities dependent on Fremont Basin water have not been asked to comment; there has been no attempt by to place the DEIR in the libraries or provide public notices about their proposal.
(12) Section labeled ES4.2.5 et sec. (p. 299 - 300 of 6840) talks about a CUP for transfer of native water and additional CUPs in increments of 114,000 AF per YEAR. However, the DEIR continually states that the project will not need any CUP. ES 4.24-5 Appendix B, discusses surplus “puts” and “takes” and says that “deliveries of water will not be interrupted, will be continuous, and if stored water is lacking, the deficits will be supplied from native groundwater”. This is contradicts Kern County Ordinance 19.118 which regulates sending native water out of the county.
ES2.2.6 (p. 295 of 6840) In addition, “In the event of a shortage of supply, the native water shall be delivered in order of priority above, from first to fifth.” This is an undue and unjustified burden on native groundwater withdrawals, causing lowering of groundwater levels, mining of groundwater resources, degradation of water quantity and quality, and impacts of subsidence in addition to impacts on overlying users. This is in contradiction to the general concept of water banking and how a water banking project should be implemented. The issue of degrading water quality must be addressed with specificity before any approval is made.
The DEIR proposes the creation of “Committees” rather
than actually determining the project’s impact to water resources. The
mitigation measures proposed for impacts to groundwater levels are inadequate.
The DEIR largely answers with a measure to form a “Monitoring
Committee.” The DEIR fails to
mention a study on the expected impacts of the proposed 114,000 AFY native
water draw down. What quantifiable measures will guide that committee’s
oversight? It is not enough to form a
“committee” for a mitigation conclusion. Mitigation steps need to be defined,
established, and in place before the project is given any CUP.
The DEIR then states a “Joint Powers Authority” (JPA) will be formed, it does not give the makeup of this committee nor their exact powers. It does say, “if formed” status, the JPA shall be the lead agency for the preparation of the IRWMP and SMP by AquaHelio. What are this committee’s oversight and quantifiable measures? Who will constitute the members of this committee, and what power of enforcement will it have? Where does it stand in regards to the existing Kern County Water Agency?
By our comments to this DEIR, Eastern Kern County Resource Conservation District officially files our objection with Kern County to the use of the native groundwater in the Fremont Valley by others for off-site locations, facilities, and transmission lines including Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s Los Angeles Aqueduct system, AVEK, SWP, and similar facilities.
The groundwater basin could be impaired permanently. There is nothing in this document that purports to protect the health of the residents, the viability of the valley, or the sustainability of the project. The Board of Directors of the Eastern Kern County RCD strongly urges denial of this Project.
Very truly yours,
Donna C. Thomas, President
Cc: Supervisor Scrivner
State Senator Jean Fuller
State Assemblyman Steve Fox
State Assemblywoman Shannon Grove
California Department of Fish and Wildlife
Carl Symons, Field Manager, Bureau of Land Management, Ridgecrest Field Office
Lahonton Regional Water Quality Control Board