The purpose of this Communication and Engagement Plan is to assist the Owens Valley Groundwater Authority (OVGA) in its efforts to develop general and strategic communications to engage stakeholders in groundwater management activities.
California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) of 2014 requires broad and diverse stakeholder involvement in Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) activities and the development and implementation of Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSP) for 127 groundwater basins around the state that are listed at high or medium priority. While the Owens Valley Groundwater Basin has recently been characterized by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) as a low priority basin (as of December 2019)1, it has elected to move forward with development of a GSP. The OVGA was created to comply with the SGMA requirement that local agencies sustainably manage groundwater in the Owens Valley Groundwater Basin (OVGB).
The intent of SGMA is to ensure successful, sustainable management of groundwater resources at the local level. Success will require cooperation by all stakeholders, and cooperation is far more likely if stakeholders have consistent messaging of valid information and are provided with opportunities to help shape the path forward.
To that end, the intention of the Communications and Engagement Plan (Plan) is to make transparent to stakeholders their opportunities to contribute to the development of a GSP that can effectively address groundwater management within the Owens Valley Groundwater Basin. At the same time, the intention of the Plan is to provide community leaders and the OVGA with a roadmap to follow to ensure stakeholders have meaningful input into OVGA decision-making, including GSP development, through a process widely seen as fair and respectful to interested parties.
The OVGB is a large basin – 1,030 square miles – with a number of jurisdictional, legal, and water management considerations specific to the basin. The Basin includes the Owens, Round, Chalfant, Hammil, and Benton Valleys as well as Fish Slough. Owens Valley is currently identified as a low priority Basin by DWR, and not in a critically overdrafted condition. However, in 2014 the Basin was considered a medium priority basin, but an approved basin boundary modification in 2016 triggered a reassessment of basin priority. In 2018 DWR proposed the basin be classified as high priority due largely to out-of-basin groundwater exports. The OVGA commented on that draft DWR designation and in May 2019, the DWR released phase II of its prioritization proposing to designate the basin low priority. That designation was finalized in December 2019. It is possible that DWR could reassess the Basin priority again at a future date.
The GSA for the Basin was formally established as the Owens Valley Groundwater Authority in May 2018. The OVGA is a joint exercise of powers agency composed of Inyo County, Mono County, City of Bishop, Indian Creek-Westridge Community Service District (CSD), and Big Pine CSD. Each of these members has water supply, water management, or land use responsibilities, and is thus eligible to individually form a GSA. The document forming the Owens Valley Groundwater Authority allows for tribes, federal agencies, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, PUC regulated private water companies, and other interested parties to have a voting role in GSA decision making. The OVGA has two Interested Party seats for the Lone Pine Paiute Shoshone Tribe and the Owens Valley Committee.
The OVGA is administered by a governing board consisting of one primary appointment and one alternate from each member agency. All OVGA Board of Director meetings are public, noticed, held and conducted in accordance with the Ralph M. Brown Act open and public meeting law. The Board may occasionally establish ad hoc committees for the purpose of making recommendations to the Board on the various activities of the Authority.
OVGA decisions will be informed through staff direction, development of recommendations from ad hoc committees, and input from technical consultants. Furthermore, the OVGA and their staff representatives will engage with Basin stakeholders through the strategies outlined in this plan to help inform the OVGA’s decisions.
The intention of the Communication and Engagement Plan is as follows:
To provide the OVGA, community leaders, and other beneficial users a roadmap to follow to ensure consistent messaging of SGMA requirements and related Basin information and data.
To provide a roadmap to the OVGA and community leaders to follow to ensure stakeholders have meaningful input into OVGA decision-making, including GSP development.
To ensure the roadmap demonstrates a process that is widely seen by stakeholders as fair and respectful to the range of interested parties.
To make transparent to stakeholders their opportunities to contribute to the development of a GSP that can effectively address groundwater management within the Basin.
The Plan seeks to accomplish the following goals:
Educate stakeholders about:
a. SGMA and its requirements.
b. Potential changes to current groundwater management under SGMA.
c. OVGA member agencies within the Owens Valley Groundwater Basin.
d. How stakeholders are represented in the OVGA.
Communicate important deadlines and dates pertinent to GSP development.
Articulate strategies and channels for gaining ongoing stakeholder input and feedback to inform GSP design and development.
Coordinate outreach and engagement activities between OVGA member agencies, and between Basin management areas, to ensure efficiencies and to support stakeholders in GSP development.
Encourage stakeholder engagement by advertising dedicated SGMA outreach channels, including meeting and workshop dates and content, as opportunities for stakeholders to provide input in the OVGA decision-making process and GSP planning process.
Opportunities for stakeholder input will be provided throughout the GSP development process, by way of public participation at OVGA Board of Directors meetings, hosted public workshops, direct outreach to constituent groups, and other mechanisms as outlined in this document. Timely notification of opportunities for interested parties to participate in the development and implementation of the GSP should be given via the channels and strategies described within.
A Basin stakeholder is a “beneficial user” as described by SGMA. Under the requirements of SGMA, all beneficial uses and users of groundwater must be considered in the development of GSPs, and GSAs must encourage the active involvement of diverse social, cultural, and economic elements of the population. Beneficial users, therefore, are any stakeholder who has an interest in groundwater use and management in the Basin community. Their interest may be GSA activities, GSP development and implementation, and/or water access and management in general.
To assist in determining who the specific SGMA stakeholders and beneficial users are, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) has issued a Stakeholder Engagement Chart (Table 1) for GSP Development in their 2017 GSP Stakeholder Communication and Engagement Guidance Document. This table was modified to fit the circumstances and stakeholders of the Owens Valley Groundwater Basin, and will continue to be updated during the planning process. Furthermore, Management Area Outreach Leads may maintain more exhaustive lists respective to their management area, for targeted stakeholder outreach efforts.
Table 1: Stakeholder Engagement Chart for GSP Development. This table will continue to be updated during the GSP planning process. Note: The groups and communities referenced are those identified during initial assessment. OVGA shall maintain current and more exhaustive lists of stakeholders fitting into these groups.
As the OVGA is reaching out to stakeholders to inform and engage them in groundwater management issues and items, it is critical to share clear and consistent key messages to avoid confusion and misunderstanding. Key messages are as follows:
The OVGA is committed to proactively and sustainably managing groundwater in the Basin through locally tailored management of groundwater resources to protect and sustain the environment, local residents and communities, agriculture, and the economy.
The OVGA is committed to proactive and transparent outreach and engagement with stakeholders and Basin community members throughout GSP planning and SGMA implementation.
Local control of groundwater should be preserved to the maximum extent practicable, and State intervention to implement SGMA should be avoided.
Sustainable groundwater conditions in the Basin are critical to support, preserve, and enhance the economic viability, social well-being, environmental health, and culture of all Beneficial Users and Uses including tribal, domestic, municipal, agricultural, environmental, and industrial users.
The OVGA is committed to conducting sustainable groundwater practices that fairly consider the needs of and protect the groundwater resources for all Beneficial Users in the Basin.
To support SGMA objectives and Basin-wide water needs, the OVGA will pursue an integrated water management approach for the Basin. An integrated water management approach will honor the social, cultural, natural, and economic diversity of the Basin.
While the Basin is currently categorized as low priority, Basin water managers recognize the value in being proactive about groundwater management. Issues resulting from groundwater extraction may become apparent in the future, potentially resulting in another recategorization of the Basin by DWR. Foresight and planning can prevent high costs and major water cut backs in the future.
The OVGA recognizes its duty to Basin residents, and future generations to ensure that financial resources are used effectively and responsibly to promote sustainable groundwater conditions. The OVGA is committed to carefully and prudently use funds to fully comply with SGMA and to avoid expanding beyond the scope of SGMA in a manner that might create undue costs to Beneficial Users.
The OVGA is committed to designing sustainability indicators that avoid significant and unreasonable impacts to groundwater dependent ecosystems (GDEs).
The OVGA is authorized to regulate certain portions of the Basin but and cannot regulate activities covered under the Inyo County/LADWP Long Term Water Agreement or determine surface water rights due to express limitations set forth as in SGMA. The OVGA is committed to responsible water management and seeks to coordinate with LADWP and prepare a GSP compatible with the Long Term Water Agreement.
OVGA representatives and staff will engage with Basin stakeholders, and will be responsible to track the needs of their local communities. The OVGA will consider stakeholder input gathered from outreach efforts as they move through GSP development and SGMA implementation processes. Four sets of strategies are important to consider when planning outreach and engagement activities, included in the following categories:
SGMA-required strategies that GSAs must legally undertake during different phases of GSA formation, GSP development and implementation. [See Appendix VI for complete description.]
Essential strategies centrally communicated at the Basin and OVGA management area level that are proven to successfully engage stakeholders.
Localized strategies coordinated among member agencies working in OVGA management areas through existing, trusted channels.
Secondary strategies that will enhance engagement efforts locally, at the beneficial user level, and on an as-needed basis.
The following strategies are meant to ensure successful engagement of Basin stakeholders during the GSP development and implementation process. The OVGA shall incorporate these strategies to ensure that “interested parties” (as defined under SGMA) and other Owens Valley Groundwater Basin stakeholder interests are considered in the development of the GSP and implementation of SGMA.
Integrate and Expand on Existing SGMA Communication and Outreach Efforts:
a. The OVGA Board Meetings and are open to the public. Other outreach activities already conducted to date include a stakeholder assessment in the summer of 2016, meetings held in 2017 with potential GSA members (facilitated by DWR), public informational meetings and a mandatory public process for the proposed basin boundary adjustment in 2018-19, and regularly scheduled public meetings of the OVGA Board since the Board’s formal establishment in May 2018.
Develop and Maintain a List of Interested Parties:
a. A list of stakeholders and beneficial users is to be developed and updated throughout the GSP planning, implementation and enforcement processes (see Table 1 above).
b. This list should be reviewed for updates every three to six months.
Maintain a Centralized Website and Social Media Accounts:
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While individual OVGA member agencies may seek to maintain separate websites, a centralized location for activities that are basin-wide or related to GSP development will demonstrate coordination and provide consistency in messaging.
a. Allocate staff and resources to maintain a stand-alone website with information about SGMA and GSP planning efforts and other relevant information.
i. As of April 2020, an RFP for a web developer is awaiting approval by the OVGA Board.
b. Provide easily accessible list of upcoming planning activities, meetings and opportunities for public involvement.
c. Provide a place where stakeholders can add their name to the interested parties list.
d. Include Resources and materials:
i. Links to external sites (DWR and State Water Resources Control Board)
ii. Links to individual OVGA member agency websites, relevant blogs, etc.
iii. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) and/or white papers
iv. OVGA documents (MOUs, bylaws, etc.)
v. GSP documents (draft GSP documents, notices and meeting calendars for GSP workshops)
vi. Maintain an online database making pertinent groundwater information available to public, stakeholders, and OVGA members (https://owens.gladata.com/default.aspx#).
e. Establish corresponding social media accounts, such as FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram profiles.
i. Social media accounts should be used for information dissemination purposes primarily, and limit or exclude the ability for general public to engage in “sideline conversations” about SGMA, etc. The social media will have the same information as presented on the website.
Provide Regular Public Notices and Updates. Ensure Brown Act Compliance:
a. Provide consistent messaging and outreach regarding SGMA information and GSP updates as they relate to Owens Valley Groundwater Basin. Topics to be noticed include and are not limited to:
i. GSP development and planning updates
1. GSP workshops
2. GSP work plan and timeline
ii. GSP implementation and enforcement updates (if/when applicable)
iii. General OVGA updates, including without limitation:
1. OVGA Board meetings
2. Public workshops and/or stakeholder roundtables
3. OVGA annual reports (if applicable)
4. Other SGMA-related updates
iv. As the work evolves, new items could be added to the list of update topics that stakeholders are provided, to help highlight their importance
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(for example, an event like an annual forum, or an ongoing activity like groundwater monitoring).
b. Schedule notices to be sent on a regular schedule, for example, bi-monthly, monthly or as needed.
c. Meetings subject to the Brown Act, such as OVGA Board meetings, must provide public notice and post an agenda 72 hours in advance of each regularly scheduled meeting (emergency meetings require 24-hour advance notice).
d. Develop content appropriate to the audience and their interests, ensuring information is articulated in a way that is easily understood.
e. Notices to community members with less SGMA or technical experience should be easily understood, with streamlined, relatable and repetitive information.
f. Updates and messages should be condensed to one page when possible, providing a succinct summary of the issues discussed, and including links for further or additional information.
g. As applicable, specific items should have an estimated timeline and a designated point of contact, including the person’s position, email and telephone.
h. Updates and information are needed in both English and Spanish.
i. Designate responsible staff and appropriate resources for ongoing interagency coordination regarding joint messaging, consistent outreach and communication with stakeholders.
j. Determine appropriate dissemination channels.
i. Utilize Constant Contact or similar email marketing platform for management of interested party stakeholder lists.
ii. Utilize member agency listservs delivered via standard email and/or U.S. Mail.
Provide Notices and Updates in Print Publications:
a. Notices can take the form of public notices, op-ed articles, letters to the editor, advertisements or paid or earned media.
i. Send information and/or media releases to regional and local media outlets and contacts.
1. Trusted radio stations in the region, including stations broadcasting in languages other than English.
2. Organization and community newsletters and periodicals.
3. Identify trusted bi-lingual and/or Spanish speaking media outlets.
ii. Provide follow-up or wrap-up articles written by staff when appropriate.
iii. Notices and information may also be provided via:
a. Send to PO boxes in Mono County
b. As bill inserts via utility districts
c. As an insert in the Saturday Inyo Register
2. Print publications, including but not limited to:
a. Inyo County Register
b. The Sierra Reader
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c. The Sheet
d. Sunday Paper
e. CSD Consumer Confidence Report
3. Posted flyers at:
b. Feed supply stores
c. Grocery stores
iv. Include notices for:
1. Public workshops
2. Specific stakeholder meetings (targeted or special topic meetings)
3. OVGA Board meetings
4. Other standing meetings of particular interest related to SGMA
5. GSP development and planning updates
6. GSP implementation and enforcement updates (if/when applicable)
7. General OVGA and SGMA-related updates
1. Advertisements (if applicable): allow 21 to 30 days advance (with content approved)
a. Identify advertisement space
b. Develop content
2. Letters to Editor: allow up to two weeks for preparation of letter and posting. Letters to the Editor can be published easily without advertisement space.
3. Posting: minimum of one week in advance of meetings for placement of final advertisement.
Institute Regular Stakeholder Outreach and Engagement Opportunities:
a. Stakeholder engagement opportunities include but are not limited to:
i. OVGA Board meetings
ii. Mono County Regional Planning Advisory Committee
iii. County Board of Supervisors meetings
iv. GSP Technical Workshops
v. Public Workshops and Roundtables
vi. Owens Lake Groundwater Working Group
b. Public workshop or roundtable content includes but is not limited to:
i. Updates on OVGA activities
ii. Updates on GSP development and planning activities
iii. Opportunities for interested parties to participate in the development and implementation of the GSP (i.e., technical workshops on specific GSP components)
iv. Notice of OVGA intent to adopt or amend a GSP
v. Updates on groundwater management activities in the Basin
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vi. Notice to impose fees
c. Logistics Considerations
i. Schedule in evenings and/or near community areas as feasible.
ii. Provide translation and facilitation services in English and Spanish
iii. Public comments will be made part of the record for consideration by the OVGA.
Strategically Engage Local, Special SGMA Identified Groups
a. Identify Management Area Outreach Leads for each management area defined in the GSP to coordinate and direct localized public outreach and engagement efforts for their areas.
b. Develop a targeted communication strategy to engage difficult to reach communities and community members that may be impacted by SGMA. This may include activities such as:
i. Door-to-door engagement
ii. Speaking at pre-existing community meetings
iii. Coordination with existing advisory groups or non-profit organizations as part of roundtable discussions.
c. Groups include:
i. Disadvantaged Communities (DACs)
ii. Underrepresented communities
iii. Latino communities
iv. Remote private pumpers
d. Recommendation: GSP Management Area Outreach Leads to manage targeted audience outreach activities, and coordinate activities among outreach team.
Develop and Update Basin Outreach and Engagement Resources Table
a. Assess and define coordinating OVGA member agencies’ outreach tools and resources available for Basin-wide outreach and engagement activities.
Develop Consistent, Coordinated Messages and Talking Points
a. Define the key messages needed to effectively convey SGMA-related information to various audiences and ensure consistency in a coordinated outreach effort to all stakeholders.
i. For each GSP topic being discussed, develop a set of talking points that can be used by OVGA members when speaking to specific stakeholder groups or audiences. Talking points and messaging may be customized to specific stakeholder groups as appropriate.
ii. Develop tools, such as a Q&A document and a SGMA 101 document, that contain easy to understand information as well as likely questions and responses you anticipate from stakeholder groups.
iii. Identify and communicate opportunities for public engagement and/or public comment during meetings on GSP development.
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iv. Provide clear messaging that the OVGA retains legal responsibility for final OVGA and GSP related decisions.
While consistent messaging is to be coherently coordinated at the Basin level, localized outreach should be coordinated among member agencies working in management areas through existing, trusted channels.
Utilize Local Agencies with Standing Meetings: The most effective way to inform and engage many stakeholders and beneficial users regarding SGMA requirements and soliciting feedback is through trusted local agencies and community organizations with standing meetings and communication channels.
a. Support local agencies and community organizations in disseminating information and engaging stakeholders in the following ways:
i. During standing board and/or community meetings
ii. Through monthly information pieces in newsletters or included in bills
iii. Disseminating information in both English and Spanish
b. Local trusted agencies and community organizations include but are not limited to [refer to Table 1 for specific groups]:
i. Civic Groups
ii. Mutual water companies
iii. DAC community meetings and leaders
iv. Growers associations and industry organizations
v. Resource conservation groups
vi. Local and regional environmental justice groups
vii. Inyo-Mono County Farm Bureaus
c. Leverage local, trusted resources for community meetings, such as schools, churches, and community centers.
i. Organize public meetings around explicit topics to specific stakeholders, including:
1. As needed or requested, SGMA 101 meeting to inform stakeholders of important changes in groundwater management and how it may impact them.
2. Meetings that explain components of the GSP, so that stakeholders can later provide meaningful input in the GSP development process.
3. Meetings that detail when and how opportunities to provide input to the OVGA decision making and GSP development processes will occur.
4. Public meetings regarding fee structures to help people understand how to interpret the impacts on them (if/when applicable).
d. Logistics Considerations:
i. Make information and meetings accessible to various stakeholder groups.
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ii. Provide information in easy to understand and streamlined terms.
iii. Provide information and facilitation in both English and Spanish.
iv. Hold meetings during hours that do not impede with regular work schedules (i.e., nights and weekends).
Utilize Existing Local Agency Resources
a. Effectively inform and engage diverse beneficial users in SGMA through trusted local agencies and community organizations with existing communication channels such as newsletters, websites and social media.
b. Disseminate consistent, coordinated messages and talking points through existing local newsletters, websites and social media.
c. Customize messages to audiences, providing easy to understand updates.
d. Provide information in both English and Spanish (most websites and social media allow users to set preferred translation).
3. Build on Strategies to Engage Local, Special SGMA Identified Groups
a. To build on the Basin-wide outreach referenced above, it is recommended that each OVGA Management Area Outreach Lead develop additional locally-targeted communication strategies to engage difficult-to-reach communities and community members that will be impacted by SGMA. Groups include Disadvantaged Communities (DACs), underrepresented communities, Latino communities, and remote private pumpers.
b. Some groups may need to be engaged through channels that do not require internet access, via door-to-door outreach and other opportunities for face-to face engagement.
c. OGVA member agencies may offer “office hours” or posted open times where interested members of the public can come in to casually discuss SGMA on their own schedule.
The following strategies and activities are options for increased stakeholder engagement, or to address particularly difficult discussions (due to, for example, political factors or limited stakeholder knowledge of content). These are for consideration on an as-needed basis to generate more or specialized stakeholder engagement and participation.
1. Develop and update Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page on website
2. Create an inexpensive informational brochure
3. Develop a strategic media plan
4. Actively cultivate relationships and updates with state and local elected officials
5. Participate in related planning efforts in the local area and region
6. Create an annual electronic newsletter (annual report)
7. Engage stakeholders through personal outreach of members of the OVGA
8. Participate in local events with an informational booth, such as:
• ChooChoo Swamp Meet (Bishop)
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• The Lone Pine Film Festival
• The City Park
• Earth Day Events
To employ the Stakeholder Communication and Engagement Plan effectively, the GSA will need to develop a schedule for outreach and engagement activities. The below table (Table 2) identifies milestones required by SGMA, as well as centralized and localized engagement strategies. This schedule shall be updated into a task-oriented work plan and timeline as communication and engagement tasks are allocated.
Any communication strategy should include opportunities to check in at various points during implementation to ensure that it is meeting the communication and engagement goals and complying with SGMA law. These check-ins can include:
What worked well?
What didn’t work as planned?
Meeting recaps with next steps
Listing lessons learned … and developing mid-course corrections
Funding for this project has been provided in full or in part from the
Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014
and through an agreement with the State Department of Water Resources.