Newberry Springs Residents
Pack Room At Water Meeting

      Fred Stearn reads some history and potential remedies while Ellen Johnson (right), president of the Newberry Springs-Harvard Real Property Owners Association, listens.   Photos courtesy of CEQA-NOW.

January 7, 2015

    Despite a difficult 2 P.M. meeting time that prevented many residents from attending on Monday, January 5, 2014, the Newberry Springs Service Center (formerly the Senior Center) was packed with residents concerned about their future water.

    The meeting allowed residents to voice their opinions on the Baja Areawide Sustainability Plan (Plan) that is being cojointly prepared by the Mojave Desert Resource Conservation District, the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Mojave Water Agency, and the US Bureau of Reclamation.  The Plan will be presented to the local Watermaster for approval prior to presentation to the Superior Court for the annual adjustments in the adjudication of the Stipulated Agreement.

    Past attempts by the Riverside County court to reign-in the lowering water table in the Mojave Valley have been fruitless.

    Two representatives of the Plan's development Project Team were at the meeting to answer questions; Holly Shiralipour, District Conservationist of the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service; and Lance Eckhart, Principal Hydrogeologist with the Mojave Water Agency.

    In the audience was Beverly Lowry, Board member of the Mojave Water Agency; Ron Frame, local field representative for county Supervisor Robert Lovingood; Chuck Bell, President of the Mojave Desert Resource Conservation District; and by speaker phone from Bishop, California, Alisa Ellsworth of the California Fish & Wildlife Service.  Mike Lamb covered the meeting for the Desert Dispatch.

    The meeting was hosted by the Newberry Springs-Harvard Real Property Owners Association, the Newberry Springs Chamber of Commerce, CEQA-NOW, and the Newberry Springs Community Alliance.

    Pictured right is Holly Shiralipour in communication with Alisa Ellsworth, California Fish & Wildlife, prior to the start of the meeting.

Opening statements.

    The opening statements lodged by the Community Alliance centered upon inconsistencies of the Plan, even its title that is dismissed and contradicted within the Plan as not being an actual plan.  Furthermore, the Plan states that it is based upon the Superior Court having jurisdiction over all the water pumpers of the basin; the problem is, that isn't factual.  The court only has jusidication over the Stipulators of an earlier water agreement which leaves some heavy pumpers outside the scope of the Stipulation and reach of the court.

    The Baja water basin is not under an adjudication, it is solely under a court managed Stipulation that excludes the minimal producers and some heavy pumpers.  So the credibility of the Plan to actually accomplish a remedy was immediately raised into question.

    The data and numerous scenerios that have been packaged within the Plan document is by far the best concentration of information on the Mojave Valley's overdraft problem.  Shiralipour, Eckhart, and the other Project Team members should be justly proud of their work.  Unfortunately, the Plan fails to address numerous concerns of the minimal producers, those residents pumping under 10-acre feet per year.  An average household pumps approximately 1/2-acre feet per year.  Some households more for pond or tree irrigation.

    Most of the meeting's time was used for public comments being addressed to Shiralipour and Eckhart.  One of the first speakers was Robert Vasseur, a board director of the Newberry Community Services District.  He felt that the introduction was too harsh and critical upon the Plan's representatives, Shiralipour and Eckhart.

    For years, the Newberry CSD has remained silent upon the depletion of the water table and Director Robert Vasseur offered nothing constructive for a solution in his comments.

    The introductory salvo was intentionally rough to set a serious tone that the Plan, that is going to impact everyone within the community, is slanted towards the farmers with little shown to help benefit the residents.  As currently proposed, the Plan lacks anything inspirational for a solution to the overdraft.

Money flow.

    Shiralipour is employed by the US Department of Agriculture and the Plan appears foremost sensitive in addressing agriculture's needs of weathering the overdraft corrections with the least amount of financial impact upon the farmers.  Therefore, the Plan calls for various financial assistance for the farmers to improve water efficiencies, alternate crop changes, and water buyouts; while ignoring the many minimal producers concerns such as water quality and the continued dumping of toxic urban sewage sludge upon the aquifer.

    Shiralipour, perhaps recognizing the severe limitations of the strategies contained within the Plan, has been personally reaching out to the farmers, lake owners, and the minimal producers to unite and to work together for a solution.  A union has been forging between the lake owners and the minimal producers who have much in common; however, a unification including the farmers appears far more elusive.

    Any notion that everyone can come together, hold hands in a warm, cuddly association and sing Kumbaya isn't about to happen because of the human nature of greed.  Most farmers caught under the Stipulation are not going to voluntarily give up their financially lucrative alfalfa growing rights, for the good of the community, when other farmers just down the road, are not cooperating.  Why should a farmer sacrifice when other farmers are bent on maintaining the status quo?

A Plan that isn't a plan.

    The Baja Areawide Sustainability Plan is not an action plan; but a series of ideas and theoretical concepts that the Superior Court might adopt to limit overdraft.  Unfortunately, with judicial oversight over only the Stipulators, the court lacks total control over a solution.  So the dilemma before the minimal producers is how are they going to protect their own groundwater from the continual overdraft by the farmers.

    The state's new Sustainable Groundwater Management Act is a major key for future sustainability.  As Lance Eckhart commented during the meeting, it places the Baja water basin under a quasi-adjudication.  However, with the partial adjudication in place for the Stipulation, the state will defer to the court for correction of the overdraft until the court proves incapable of a solution, as the court eventually may, due to a lack of overall enforcement of the water basin.  The state will be required to takeover control.

    Although no remedy of the overdraft was acquired, the minimal producers meeting held Monday, January 5, was very important.  It was the first organizational meeting called to demonstrate that the minimal producers are concerned over the continual overdrafting of their water by agriculture and they want to be heard.  No longer will they remain silent as their water is pumped away by commercial operators.

    Fred Stearn read from a document, co-signed by CEQA-NOW, that provided a brief history of Newberry's water.  The document suggests some alternative remedies that minimal producers might explore.  The document has been obtained by the Community Alliance and is published below.

    The California Natural Resources Agency's Department of Fish & Wildlife (CDFW) has been an important influence upon the court's past recommendations.  In reviewing the draft Baja Areawide Sustainability Plan, CDFW has submitted a letter to Holly Shiralipour that supports a 5-percent additional rampdown and the Plan's proposals "that can complement, not supplant, the requirements of the Judgment."   For the most part, the CDFW is onboard with the Plan although the timetable, funding, and other factors are concerns.  That letter also has been acquired and is published below.

    The Newberry Springs Community Alliance finds that the proposed scenerios that funnel taxpayers' dollars into the farmers' continued production of alfalfa is unconscionable and an extortion payoff.

    Holly Shiralipour, Lance Eckhart, and the others who have worked on the Baja Areawide Sustainability Plan have done a reasonably great job under some very trying conditions.  Yes, the minimal producers are unhappy with the drafted Plan but this is largely the minimal producers' fault for not understanding it earlier, how it was being driven, and providing the Project Team with greater input.  Now that the draft has been released, and understood, it is critical for the minimal producers to strongly voice themselves before the Mojave Water Agency and the court.

    This can be initially done through the Plan's Project Team until Friday, January 9, 2015 at and using the e-mail submit comment link.

    After Friday, January 9, attendance at the Mojave Water Agency hearings will be critical to preserve your full water rights.

Become involved.  Don't expect others to protect your water for you.


We never know the worth of water till the well is dry.
                                       — Thomas Fuller


Meeting References.
Baja Areawide Sustainability Plan
Points of Concern - Presented by the Community Alliance
All points may not reflect the position of other meeting cohosts.

  #1.  Minimal producers are not supportive of the current Plan; except for soil erosion remedies.
  #2.  Depletion of the aquifer MUST STOP; Emergency Declaration warranted;
  #3.  Baja Subarea ban on farming alfalfa and all large scale water-intensive crops;
  #4.  Demand upon the MWA for the Mojave Valley's historical Mojave River water flow;
  #5.  Increase in rampdown (minimum compliance with mandatory 'Exhibit H' - Except for #9 below);
  #6.  No on the purchase of farming water rights for water retirement (Alternative #1);
  #7.  Freeze sale and transfer of water rights for water-intensive crop farming;
  #8.  Freeze on the dumping of toxic urban sewage sludge upon the groundwater topsoil;
  #9.  Freeze on further lake owner rampdowns;
#10.  Plan fails to analyze and include the impact of deteriorating water quality;
#11.  No on alternative #15 - 'Increase Irrigation Efficiency' - amounts to a farmers' gov't paid windfall;
#12.  Restoration of the aquifers (not just stabilization);
#13.  Acquisition of grants to fund the MWA's Newberry pipeline's purpose;
#14.  Well drilling grants for new wells for impacted minimal producers (easy qualify);
#15.  Effective monitoring and enforcement of all heavy pumpers;
#16.  Restitution to minimal producers for damages of lost land value and pumping costs;
#17.  Court recognition of minimal producers as an impacted damaged party by the Stipulation;
#18.  Support California Department of Fish & Wildlife's plans at Camp Cady;
#19.  Government initiate testing for nitrates, pesticides, and herbicides near alfalfa fields;
#20.  Accountability of Compliance.
#21.  Enforcement.
#22.  Litigation.


Information presented by Fred Stearn.


Fish & Wildlife letter on the Plan.

California's new groundwater timetable.

Related blogs:
U.S. farmers making hay with alfalfa exports to China -  L.A. Times  6/8/14
Readers React -  L.A. Times  6/14/14
Is Newberry Springs being slowly poisoned like Hinkley? -  7/14/14
Is Newberry Springs killing horses? -  8/3/14
Dirty secret of some Newberry Springs farmers. -  8/17/14
Evidence grows for possibility of tainted horse feed. -  8/20/14
Farmers continuing import of toxic sewer sludge. -  9/11/14
Planning Sustainable Water - Community Turning Against Farmers -  9/19/14
Angry Residents Call For Rampdowns And Pumping Tax -  9/26/14
Farmers are horrified at proposed draconic rampdowns -  10/4/14
Emergency action necessary to save water supply. -  10/11/14
Water activist meets with citizens on water law. -  10/16/14
Pivot farming is seriously depleting local water. -  11/11/14
Baja Areawide Sustainability Plan supports status-quo. -  12/9/14
Newberry Springs lakes are being choked. -  12/29/14
Special Report: Silver Valley's water plan. -  1/1/15

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