Water agency approves 7,000-percent cost increase

The failed protest vote to halt a “basin replenishment fee” to meet SGMA requirements puts added pressure on a major business in the high desert.

A protest vote over the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority’s basin pricey replenishment fee failed last Friday. 

The Authority voted 4-1 to pass the replenishment fee despite significant public opposition. 


The Authority did not release the number of Proposition 218 protest votes submitted by the public. 

Although residential users will see an estimated $24 per month increase, Searles Valley Minerals will see a 7,000-percent increase in water costs. 

Searles Valley Minerals currently pays $105 per acre foot, and the fee increases that cost to $2,130 per acre foot, totalling about $6 million per year. 

During the meeting, Authority Chair Mick Gleason, a Kern County Supervisor, said the authority will work with Searles Valley Minerals to find a solution to continue to operate despite the fee increase. 

“We appreciate Charman Gleason’s acknowledgement of Searles’ water right priority in the basin, and his offer to work with us to find a solution that will allow Searles to continue operating as an economic engine and pillar of this community,” said Searles Valley Minerals Vice President of Operations Burnell Blanchard in a statement. 

“Today’s unprecedented level of community participation underscores the very real economic impacts this fee will have on local residents and businesses like ours. As we have done for over 140 years, we will continue working to maintain operations – particularly during one of our country’s worst recessions – and preserve the good paying, essential jobs of our 700 employees.” 

The fee comes from the Authority’s Groundwater Sustainability Plan and is designed to mitigate the damage sustained by shallow wells due to subsidence and acquire water rights to import water and meet necessary groundwater levels for pumping under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. 

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