January 22, 2005

USGS kills hopes of plentiful water in Joshua Tree

JOSHUA TREE - Think Joshua Tree's got plentiful groundwater? Think again.

By Sara Munro
Hi-Desert Star

Mojave Water Agency
Water Delivery Facilities

The results of a five-year study completed by the United States Geological Survey and released to the public Wednesday set the record straight on groundwater recharge, dashing any lingering hopes perpetrated by a fraudulent study portraying copious water stored in underground rivers and lakes.

"You are de-watering your aquifer," said USGS hydrologist Tracy Nishikawa. "You are extracting water faster than it's being recharged."

USGS hydrologists employed three methods of study showing that natural recharge is taking place at 71, 158 and 200 acre feet per year, significantly below the 1,800 acre feet the district extracts each year.

Tests indicate the Joshua sub-basin level has dropped 35 feet between 1958 and 2001.

Those seeking hope for rising aquifer levels due to recent rainfall will also be disappointed. Contrary to commonly held beliefs, rainfall has little to no impact on groundwater recharge.

"Summer storms do nothing for groundwater recharge," said Nishikawa, who used a Power Point presentation to show that winter precipitation is the source of natural recharge. He also explained that most of the water dropped in storm events like the most recent rainfall, runs off. What doesn't won't percolate into the aquifer for several hundred years.

The study indicates that the youngest water coming out of the taps of Joshua Tree is 2,400 years old, and the oldest is 32,000.

The good news is the water quality remains high, and there's no septic material in the groundwater.

Showing their concern over groundwater contamination due to nitrates from septic tanks, the board asked a slew of questions on the matter.

"At present, you are not seeing it in the groundwater supply," said Nishikawa. "It doesn't mean it's not saturating."

Nishikawa said the issue "may need to be considered in future scenarios."

General manager Joe Guzetta pointed out the business of the district is to take this information and use it to ask some pertinent questions, to predict future water levels and budgets, to investigate recharging alternatives and to consider "what if" pumping scenarios.

It is estimated that probably only 10 to 20 percent of the groundwater can be extracted cost-effectively.

"We're working with our geologist to determine what percentage is reasonable to extract," said Guzetta.

District policy sets how much of the extractable water can be removed.

The question on everyone's mind is: How much time can the district maintain pumping at current levels?

Director Rick Beatty said, "We know the problem is important, we don't know how urgent it is."

January 14, 2005

Woman giving up in battle over Mojave land

LEAVING: A long eviction fight with federal authorities is nearing an end for Connie Connelly.

By MICHAEL FISHER / The Press-Enterprise (Riverside, CA)

After decades of living in the windswept Mojave National Preserve, Connie Connelly is resigned to leaving her rustic home for land in remote Wyoming that the National Park Service is buying for her.

"I plan on moving on as quick as possible," said Connelly, 44, who has spent years battling federal authorities' efforts to evict her from the venerable general store her family turned into a homestead in 1966. The house sits on 5 brushy acres near the California state line, about 23 miles from Primm, Nev.

Connelly, who pleaded ont guilty in August to a charge of trespassing on federal land, was due in federal court Friday but that hearing was postponed.

If convicted, she faces up to six months in jail and a $5,000 fine. Prosecutors have said they will take Connelly's move into consideration as they decide whether to pursue the case.

Faced with possible jail time and a fine she cannot afford, Connelly said she ultimately had no choice but to agree to move. But she would prefer to stay in the six-room home she shares with 11 dogs, a cat.

"I am still praying for a miracle," Connelly said. "I just feel sick.

National Park Service officials declined comment Thursday, citing the pending case.

Under a deal with Connelly, the Park Service is paying $65,000, plus $3,000 in moving expenses, toward relocating Connelly to a double-wide mobile home on 3 acres near Lovell, Wy., about 145 miles east of Yellowstone National Park.

Escrow is expected to close Jan. 21, after which Connelly will own the home and land.

Connelly has seen photos of the tree-spotted land in Wyoming, which sits less than two miles outside the 2,200-resident town.

"I was hoping to get a place way, way out in the tulies, and this is pretty close to a neighbor," Connelly said. "It's kind of crowded."

Connelly says that her father purchased their Ivanpah house, a former mining company general store, when her family moved from Hemet in the 1960s. Parks officials say the family leased, but never owned the land, a contention Connelly disputes.

The property sits within the 1.6-million-acre Mojave National Preserve, which was created in 1994.

Connelly's father died in 1990 and her mother, Pauline, died two years ago. Authorities argue that Connelly's name is not on the lease, and she is not entitled to live on the land.

The home is surrounded by a corral and a jumble of scrap lumber, rotting furniture and deteriorating travel trailers. A railroad track runs just a few house. "I'll keep listening for that train."