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  • Writer's pictureFresno Irrigation

Kings River Prepares For State Board Hearing On Kern District's Water-Grab Effort

Updated: Apr 12, 2023


Steve Haugen, Kings River Watermaster

Office: (559) 217-5249

Prepared by: Randy McFarland, KRWA Public Information Consultant

Office: (559) 260-2775


January 15, 2021

STATE WATER RESOURCES CONTROL BOARD review that is scheduled to lead to an April hearing is beginning to focus public attention on the Semitropic Water Storage District’s attempt to take vitally-needed water away from vast numbers of Kings River communities and move that supply south to Kern County.

State Board officials have circulated hearing notices to more than 9,000 property owners in Fresno, Kings and Tulare counties. These generalized documents obscure the real story at issue: The significant, long-term harm that could result to the entire Kings River service area and its population of more than one million people.

“What this Kern County agency is attempting to do is gain a right to take huge amounts of Kings River water from future flood runoff and physically move it south from its place of origin and place of use within the Kings River service area’s 1.1 million acres,” said Kings River Watermaster Steve Haugen. Haugen manages the Kings River Water Association and the river’s water use and storage entitlements for the 28 public districts and canal companies that hold rights to divert Kings River runoff under six licenses granted decades ago by the State Board. Two of those licenses are being challenged in a complaint by Semitropic.

“Semitropic’s proposal is an old-fashioned water grab,” Haugen added. “It would be devastating to dozens of cities and communities relying on Kings River water, including Fresno and Clovis. Dozens of rural areas that would be harmed by Semitropic are disadvantaged. Their residents are already experiencing groundwater quantity and quality issues ranging from significant to severe.”

Haugen said the state long ago declared the Kings River’s natural runoff “to be completely spoken for. KRWA and its 28 member units “have been active in fighting Semitropic’s efforts to snatch Kings River water,” the Watermaster added. Semitropic made its plans known following the record drought the valley endured between 2012-16.

KRWA Chairman Jerry Halford of Sultana said, “KRWA’s members are good stewards of the Kings River and make every effort to put its waters to the most beneficial uses possible, providing water supplies, jobs, water, food production, recreation and environmental protection throughout our service area.”

The State Board’s notice relates that a pre-hearing conference will be conducted by an administrative hearing officer at 9 a.m. Tuesday, January 26. The main hearing itself will take place from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. April 15, and continue as needed On April 16 and from April 19-22. The hearing notice states the state agency is to consider whether or not it should:

  • Revoke two of KRWA’s six existing licenses for use of Kings River water.

  • Issue a cease and desist order against KRWA or any of its member units for “the unauthorized diversion, or threat of unauthorized diversion, of water as alleged in the Semitropic complaint.”

  • Revise or revoke a declaration, made long ago by the State Board, that the Kings River is a “fully-appropriated stream” and that the state’s Division of Water Rights should be authorized “to accept applications to appropriate water from the Kings River system.”

“KRWA member units oppose each of those possible state board actions,” Haugen said. “If permitted to prevail, this process would provide Semitropic with Kings River floodwater that KRWA member units have long planned to utilize for crucially-needed groundwater recharge projects.” Those are aimed at meeting mandates under the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) in portions of Fresno, Kings and Tulare counties. Semitropic intends this water to benefit Kern County farmers and other agencies, including some in Southern California, that use Semitropic’s extensive water banking facilities west of Wasco.

Along with Semitropic’s complaint and requests, the upcoming proceedings are to consider a separate petition by the Consolidated, Alta and Fresno irrigation districts on a number of related issues.

Urban and agricultural users in most areas served by Kings River districts — including Fresno, Selma-based Consolidated and Dinuba-based Alta — rely heavily on groundwater pumped. Since the 1930s, Kings River agencies have been developing ponding basins to recharge groundwater supplies. Many more are planned. All rely on availability of Kings River floodwater runoff.

Since the state enacted SGMA in 2014, recharge use of Kings River water has never been more important. Groundwater sustainability areas (GSAs) have adopted state-required plans for making groundwater supplies sustainable over the next two decades. These GSAs and their plans include all cities, towns, rural areas, irrigation districts and dozens of disadvantaged communities. A key component of complying with SGMA requirements is capturing current and future Kings River flood flows for use in improving aquifer water quantities and quality. It would be impossible for Kings water users to comply with SMGA if this water is permitted to be moved south to Kern County.




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