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State regulators must ensure proper use of Kings River water and deny theft attempt

By Steve Haugen and Mark McKean

Ask any lifelong farmer or resident in the Central Valley, and they’ll tell you — the game is changing, and it’s changing fast.

Year after year, there is greater demand for water. Climate change wreaks havoc on crops, the droughts seem longer and the torrential rains come down even heavier. We are paying the consequences of past water management practices, especially overpumping of groundwater.

The state of California has pushed for smarter, more responsible and sustainable water management practices. In recent years, new laws have been enacted that will help all of us over the long-term. But it is critical that when our state’s leaders establish new goals and pass new policies, they must also help us achieve them without changing the rules of the game along the way.

Fortunately, for those who live in the service area of the Kings River Water Association, we have long been ahead of the curve in adapting to a changing world and ever-evolving political climate. For decades, KRWA and its member entities have led the way in using recharge basins, surface water treatment, interconnection, flood managed aquifer recharge, and other techniques to improve water supplies.

With the passage of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, the state put all California water users and managers on a strict path toward greater accountability. As part of our commitment in a post-SGMA world, association member entities and individual users have undertaken multiple projects throughout our service area to achieve these goals.

For example, Alta Irrigation District’s Traver Pond is a multipurpose recharge and water banking facility and is providing water earlier to users to manage their supplies for later. At McKean Farm, our flood managed aquifer recharge allows us to put more water in the ground when it’s most plentiful. In Fresno, the Southeast Surface Water Treatment facility is the newest such plant and part of the Recharge Fresno program, a key to a successfully integrated water program with the Fresno Irrigation District. Many of these projects also target the improvement of water quality for the many disadvantaged communities in our part of the Central Valley.

At the same time, there is a recognition that we all must change our behavior collectively. KRWA is striving to lead by example.

But all of our good work in recent years is now in peril. The State Water Resources Control Board is considering a request from Semitropic Water Storage District, an aggressive water purveyor in Kern County that has its designs on KRWA waters — a planned water theft that would nullify so much of our work and decimate our ability to meet the requirements of SGMA and improve water quality.

If the state of California truly wants local and regional agencies to step up and meet the demands of a challenging water future, our elected leaders and regulatory agencies must support the people who are already doing that work, rather than cutting their legs out from under them.

Without Kings River floodwaters being retained in the Kings River basin for surface water deliveries and groundwater recharge within the basin, agricultural lands will have to be fallowed, city growth will have to be curtailed or altogether suspended, water supplies will depend upon rationing and the quality of Central Valley life will be forever negatively impacted.

Across the board, our projects provide tremendous benefits that go little noticed. Such projects are reflective of the changing philosophies and practices to put more water to groundwater storage than traditionally used — but this water is now in direct jeopardy.

Kings River water is essential to our river’s local service area and everyone who depends on it. We will continue to fight any attempt to remove water from where it is truly vital.

For more information, and to join our coalition, please visit: SaveKingsRiverWater.org.

Steve Haugen is watermaster of Kings River Water Association, which is headquartered in Fresno. Mark McKean operates McKean Farms in Riverdale.