The reader of the article below about a plantation of 100,000 pistachio trees in the Mojave Desert should also consider that Ridgecrest is the driest corner in Kern County, in extreme drought at the moment. -- blj
Mojave Pistachios, SVM file lawsuits vs. IWVGA
The Daily Independent
By Lauren Jennings
The Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority faces two lawsuits, from a major local farm operation and Searles Valley Minerals, over water rights filed this week in the aftermath of the passing of a controversial groundwater replenishment fee and a fallowing program.
Mojave Pistachios, LLC and Paul and Mary Nugent have filed a lawsuit against the IWVGA, alleging misuse of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act in order to eradicate agriculture from the valley in favor of the Navy, according to court documents.
“Mojave represents what is best about farming. We are playing our part in feeding the world. We are good stewards of the land and farm under best management practices,” said Rod Stiefvater, owner of Mojave Pistachios.
“We are amicably participating in SGMA planning across California and we have left no stone unturned here in our effort to collaborate toward achieving a sustainable groundwater management plan that considers all beneficial uses, including agriculture.”
Separately, Searles Valley Mineral also filed a lawsuit against the IWVGA this week, with claims that the new fee increases would push “Searles Valley Minerals out of business after more than 140 years of operation.”
“Searles is a pillar of the Trona and Ridgecrest communities, providing jobs and economic benefits to these communities since we were founded in 1873,” said Burnell Blanchard, Vice President of Operations for Searles Valley Minerals.
“We’ve maintained our workforce through natural disasters, a global pandemic and the subsequent economic crisis. Now, we face the threat of closing our doors and putting hundreds of people out of work because the Authority has refused to recognize our long-established groundwater rights.”
Mojave Pistachio, Nugent Lawsuit
Mojave Pistachio states multiple causes for suing, and wants the courts to invalidate the Groundwater Sustainability Plan, extraction fee, replenishment fee and other “implementing actions.” It also wants the IWVGA to prepare a new GSP, one that complies with SGMA.
The lawsuit alleges, among other claims, that “the GSP is flawed because its primary objective — to protect the Navy — was predetermined” and that the “GSP fails to incorporate and respond to stakeholder comments.”
On April 16, Mojave Pistachios’ technical consultants were removed from the Policy Advisory Committee (PAC) and the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC). The lawsuit alleges that it was “treated differently from similarly situated users by the IWVGA board,” citing the lack of policy requiring the expulsion of a PAC or TAC entity as a consequence for it missing a payment.
Found within the complaint are quotes from board member Mick Gleason, on three separate occasions spanning April 2018 to October 2019, that are claimed to support Mojave Pistachios’ argument.
Also quoted within the lawsuit is IWVGA Board Director Ron Kicinski (IWVWD), who stated that the Navy is “in the driver’s seat” in February 2019.
Mojave Pistachios also claims that the IWVGA does not own the model used in the GSP. In fact, it alleges that the Navy controls the model and the Navy would have to authorize modifications to any model parameter.
The Plaintiff also states that the IWVGA’s pumping allocation objectives were “determined internally by IWVGA staff, fed into the model developed by the Navy’s contractor, and cemented into the fabric of the GSP without public comment and before the sustainable management criteria were even considered.”
“The Navy model has not been peer-reviewed, and despite [the] Plaintiffs’ requests, the IWVGA refused to release the model to stakeholders,” the lawsuit reads.
The lawsuit directly quotes SGMA as requiring the GSA to consider the interests of all beneficial uses and users of groundwater, including agricultural users, something Mojave Pistachio says the defendants failed to fully consider the impact on overlying uses and users of groundwater. This complaint is included as evidence in the Nugent’s claims that the GSP is inadequate.
Mojave Pistachios also states that the IWVGA was in violation by failing to respond to the comments and concerns that it, as well as other stakeholders, had in regards to the GSP. The lawsuit details seven examples of comments that Mojave had submitted to the IWVGA and the responses it received, with two responses reading:
“Comment related to legal positions and not specifically relevant to the GSP” and “The best available information was used at the time the analyses for the GSP were conducted.”
These are only some of the allegations and claims made within this lawsuit.
Searles Valley Minerals Lawsuit
Searles Valley Minerals’ lawsuit also hones in on the Navy with claims that its groundwater rights are earlier in time and have priority over any water right reserved to NAWS and other claimants.
“Searles Valley Minerals’ right to pump water in the basin for domestic uses is senior to any water right reserved to Weapons Station, and because Water District’s groundwater pumping began no earlier than 1955, its appropriative right, if any, to Basin water remains junior to Searles Valley Minerals’ right,” the lawsuit reads.
SVM makes a claim similar to that of Mojave Pistachios, stating that the GA relied on a model that was operated by NAWS. It also claims that the GA had “predetermined” that most, if not all, of the basin’s sustainable yield should be allocated to NAWS and the “Water District.”
“This deficiency and bias are shown, in part, by the fact that the Authority relied on a numerical groundwater model owned and controlled by the Weapons Station. Authority used Weapons Station’s model to make erroneous calculations but has not made the numerical groundwater model available to stakeholders or the public despite repeated requests to do so,” the lawsuit reads.
In an example, SVM lists the water that is used to maintain the China Lake Golf Course as “not ‘primary’ under water law.”
“If the Weapons Station wants to use Basin water for those secondary purposes, the Weapons Station may appropriate water pursuant to California law and pay for that water with federal funds. The cost of that groundwater should not be subsidized by Searles Valley Minerals,” the lawsuit reads.
The Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority met for “potential litigation” in a special meeting Friday morning. Gleason declined to comment on what the potential litigation was on Friday.