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PALMDALE — After much discussion regarding the impact of allowing additional groundwater pumping on the underlying basin, the Antelope Valley Watermaster granted permission for a new well for a pistachio farm on the Valley’s west side.

The Watermaster is the body tasked with over­see­ing the 2015 court sett­le­ment that set limits on ground­water pump­ing for users across the Val­ley.

The adjudicated area gov­erned by the court judg­ment covers ap­prox­imately 1,390 square miles of the underlying ground­water basin, encom­pass­ing the bulk of the Antelope Valley.

Under the terms of the judgment, any new ground pumping must be approved by the Watermaster Board, if it is determined that it will not unduly harm the basin.

On Wednesday, the Board considered a request by Carlos and Paola Diaz Hernandez to install a new well and pump 80 acre-feet of groundwater annually to irrigate an expanded pistachio orchard.

An acre-foot is 325,851 gal­lons, or approximately the amount of water a typ­ical Antelope Valley house­hold used in one year be­fore the last drought reduced usage.

The Hernandez family purchased the property with about 600 trees in late 2019, and wish to expand the orchard to a total of 1,750 trees, according to the staff report.

The property has a well and the previous owner was deemed a small pumper class member under the court judgment, which means he was allowed to pump up to three acre-feet per year.

The previous owner, however, did not comply with the requirement to install a meter on the well, so actual use is not known. The original owner reportedly hauled water from elsewhere to supplement the well to irrigate the trees.

The Board expressed concern that without a meter on the original well on the property, the amount of water that has been used is only an estimate, which brings into question the projected amount of water that will be needed for the expanded pistachio orchard.

In its analysis, the Watermaster Engineer — contracted to the firm Todd Groundwater — calculated the trees would each use 40 gallons of water per day, based on research using agricultural literature and consulting farmers, said Kate White of Todd Groundwater.

The Board approved the application for the new well, with the stipulation that it be properly metered before use, along with the original well; the property owner meets all water reporting requirements and pays replacement water fees. These fees are used to purchase imported water through the State Water Project to replenish the additional groundwater pumped.

Director Adam Ariki, of Los Angeles County Waterworks, expressed concern over relying on replacement fees to replenish the basin when additional pumping is allowed, as the imported water from the State Water Project may not be available, as in drought years like the current one. The State Water Project this year is providing only 5% of the allotted water to its contractors, like Antelope Valley-East Kern Water Agency, which supplies the replacement water.

“We can’t just keep approving additional water without considering that AVEK and Palmdale Water District may not have water to provide for us,” he said.

While it may not be of immediate concern in regards to the request the Board considered Wednesday, he stressed that is was an issue to consider for future planning.

Better enforcement of metering and reporting requirements is also needed, Directors said. Those without meters possibly could be compelled to pay for an electrical analysis to determine how much water a well has produced, based on the amount of electricity used to run the pumps.

In the Hernandez case, the Board did not want to punish them for the actions of the previous owner, who told them the well did not need a meter, Carlos Hernandez said.

“We were pretty much bamboozled as to what was required,” he said.

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