[env-trinity] SF Chronicle 8 12 2010
bwl3 at comcast.net
Mon Jul 12 10:58:41 PDT 2010
Suit to get Kern Water Bank returned to state
By Kelly Zito
Control of California's largest underground water bank was illegally
bestowed on a handful of private, wealthy agriculture and real estate
companies in the 1990s, according to a group of environmentalists, sport
fishermen and delta farmers.
Now, as the Golden State grapples with an aging water network, declining
fish species and climate change, a lawsuit argues that the Kern Water Bank
should be returned to the state agency that bankrolled it.
"In times of drought, (the water bank) is a dry-day fund that means we don't
have to shut people's taps off during drought," said Adam Keats, senior
attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, one of five groups that
filed the lawsuit July 2 in state superior court in Kern County. "But rather
than protect key populations, it's increasing the profit potential for a
small group of water barons in Kern County."
The Kern Water Bank, a vast system of wells, pipelines and underground
cisterns spread over 20,000 acres in the southern San Joaquin Valley, was
developed as a key surplus reservoir by California in the late 1980s. After
sinking about $75 million into the bank, however, the state handed it over
to the Kern County Water Agency in 1995 in exchange for water rights to
45,000 acre-feet of water, or enough to supply 90,000 households for a year.
That same year, a public-private partnership called the Kern Bank Water
Authority was formed among four water districts and one private company,
Westside Mutual Water Company.
Today, the lawsuit argues, about 84 percent of the water bank is effectively
in the grip of two mammoth businesses: Paramount Farms, an agricultural
holding company that owns Westside and is controlled by Los Angeles
billionaire Stewart Resnick; and Tejon Ranch Company, a real estate firm
proposing a resort, 3,500-home development and shopping center in the
While the Tejon Ranch proposal marches forward and Paramount Farms - the
largest grower of almonds and pistachios in the world - grows apace, dry
spells brought on by climate change and environmental restrictions on water
pumping are likely to mean water shortages for most other cities and farmers
in the state, the plaintiffs contend.
At the same time, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and many large water agencies
have voiced support for new dams and reservoirs.
Officials with Kern Water Bank Authority, Paramount Farms and Westside
Mutual Water Company did not return calls seeking comment. Attorneys with
the state Department of Water Resources are reviewing the lawsuit.
Officials with Tejon Ranch referred comment about the content of the lawsuit
to the Kern Water Bank Authority. But Tejon Ranch spokesman Barry Zoeller
indicated the legal action came as no surprise given the Center for
Biological Diversity's long-held opposition to the development. The group
maintains that building on the site will destroy critical California condor
"The center... has been at this for a long time," Zoeller said. "I expect
them to continue."
This month's lawsuit was the second filed by the coalition this year over
the so-called "Monterey Plus Amendments," measures enacted in 1995 that
changed some aspects of how the state manages the water network supplying
about 25 million people and 750,000 acres of farmland.
Byron Leydecker, JcT
Chair, Friends of Trinity River
PO Box 2327
Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327
415 383 4810 land/fax
415 519 4810 mobile
<mailto:bwl3 at comcast.net> bwl3 at comcast.net
<mailto:bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org> bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org
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