Water Going South

The prior blog talked about how the state topped off Pyramid and Castaic Lakes (the two lakes in L.A. fed by Delta water) during the middle of the drought. And how San Luis Reservoir was below 350,000 acre feet in August 2013, yet this month it’s over 1 million acre-feet (66 percent of average capacity).

The state also topped off the Kern Water Bank during the drought – the privately-held underground water bank which doesn’t need to report how much water is there. Because it’s business is hidden. Private.

Kern water bank arial during wet years

In October 2014, the Kern Water Bank held 800,000 acre feet, more than twice the amount that Hetch-Hetchy can even hold.

It seems there’s a lot of water that has already been pumped south and continued to be pumped south over the past year. Yet they keep pumping.

Who owns the Kern Water Bank?

The Kern Water Bank website has an interesting (er, misleading) myths versus facts page posted by the Kern Water Bank Authority trying to diffuse all of the complaints and law suits about the water bank’s ownership and use. Here’s a sample:

    Myth: The Kern Water Bank was actually purchased by two large agri-business firms that now control the entire banking project.
    [yes, that is the way their page spells “Reality”, not my typo] The Kern Water Bank Authority owns the KWB lands and operates the Kern Water Bank project. The Authorities’ members include two water districts, two water storage districts, a water agency, and a mutual water company. The Kern Water Bank has never been owned, operated or controlled by private entities.

That isn’t Reality or Realilty. False.

In October, 2014, Judge orders Review of Kern Water Bank, the article and the law suit claim that:

    “The bank — which stores water underground in wet years for use in dry years — was transferred to local interests from the DWR in 1995. Activist groups have long argued that the state spent nearly $100 million of taxpayer money to develop the bank, then handed it over to the control of billionaire Stewart Resnick, owner of Paramount Farms, and other powerful ag and water interests.”

    “The Kern Water Bank Authority, which operates the water bank, is a public joint powers authority made up of six members, including Dudley Ridge Water District, Kern County Water Agency, Tejon-Castac Water District, Semitropic Water Storage District, Wheeler Ridge-Maricopa Water Storage District and Westside Mutual Water Co.”

    “Resnick’s Paramount Farms, the largest grower and processor of pistachios and almonds in the world, holds the majority of seats on Dudley Ridge, which is located in Kings County, and Resnick owns Westside Mutual. Together, those two entities own more than half of the water bank.”

I’d call that “private ownership.”

Is that legal?

There have been ongoing law suits about the transfer from the DWR to the current Kern Water Bank Authority. Most recently, October 2014, Judge Frawley said he would not make a ruling about the transfer — essentially leaving it in place — and gave no specific timetable for when the department should finish its new analysis. In the meantime, the bank will be allowed to keep operating as usual.

Let’s hope that review gets done sooner than later.

Prioritizing Farmers over Urban Users

Part of the Monterey Agreement changed water usage prioritization – prioritizing farmers over urban users.

Bill Jennings, California Sports has this to say in a March 2014 post:

    The Monterey Agreement was fashioned in a series of secret meetings and modified the State Water Project’s water contracts. The Agreement: eliminated the “urban preference,” which prioritized water deliveries to municipalities during drought; eliminated requirements to bring water contracts into balance with reliable project yield; provided for increased delivery of “surplus water,” that resulted in worsening water quality and declining Delta fisheries and illegally transferred state property known as the Kern Water Bank to wealthy private entities, undermining the California Water Code by masking the purpose and place of water use. The Agreement essentially institutionalized the concept of “paper water.”

Background on the arguments that a public resource was transferred for private enrichment appears in the 2011 California Lawyer article and in a paper titled, “Water Heist” published in 2003 by Public Citizen at http://www.citizen.org/documents/water_heist_lo-res.pdf.

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