By Lois Henry
There's a critically important election coming up in a few weeks but not the one you're thinking of.
The really important race is for Kern County Water Agency director. (You were guessing President of the U.S., I know.)
It's important because the people on this board control the ins and outs of a huge portion of Kern's water supply. And despite popular thinking, the board does affect the average Joe and Jan. Water is the lifeblood off our economy.
Besides, a portion of our property taxes and some special fees help fund the agency, so we oughta know who's got their hand on the cash register.
To help you out, I asked all eight candidates for the three open seats a set of questions and am presenting their answers here. They all got the same questions and the same number of words to answer them.
Because of space considerations, we were only able to present a few of my questions in print. The full questionaire and candidate answers, as sent to us, appear below.
1. Why are you running for this seat?
2. What is the biggest issue facing the agency?
3. Do you support the City of Bakersfield's efforts to increase Kern River flows? If not, why not?
4. The agency has experienced serious budget issues problems recently. If more reductions are needed, where would you cut? Alternatively, how would you propose to increase revenues?
5. Do you support or oppose sales of water out of the county? If you support such sales, under what circumstances?
7. What are your thoughts on the local groundwater committee now being organized?
8. How do you think ground water in Kern should be managed or regulated, if at all?
9. What is your position on the recent pipeline proposal to move water through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta?
10. Should the agency continue to devote resources/money to state water issues at the state level? Or focus more on local water issues?
Fred Terry Rogers, 67, retired physicist, Division 2 incumbent
1. I have represented eastern Kern County on the KCWA for the past 26 years and hope to continue to do so.
2. By far the biggest issue is the resolution of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta situation. An affordable solution that increases the reliability, and hopefully the quantity, of Kern County's primary water supply must be found to insure the County's future for agricultural, municipal and industrial users.
3. Years ago, the KCWA installed wells and made available capacity in the Cross Valley Canal to allow a recirculating river flow if the City would pay for the power. They were never willing to do so. To provide water from Lake Isabella is a matter for the water rights holders on the Kern River.
4. & 5. The budget shortfall was mostly due to litigation expenses associated with the bay/delta issues mentioned above. These expenses are tapering off and the budget is now balanced.
6. In general, I do not. I cannot imagine a day that Kern County will have excess water for the long term. However, good water management can require transfers and exchanges that would have water leaving the County for the short term. In addition there are certain river rights that permit out of county sales.
7. & 8. The Indian Wells Valley has had a cooperative ground water coordinating committee for two decades. I think it is a good idea. I think groundwater management is inevitable and cooperative management is by far the best approach. If it fails, the alternatives are adjudication by the courts or the state legislature mandating a system, possibly putting groundwater under the State Water Resources Control Board!
9. If it is affordable, the cross delta tunnel seems to be the best approach for conveying water to the pumps. It requires less mitigation than a canal and solves the fish and water quality problems associated with the current through delta approach.
10. In my opinion, they are inseparable. It would be fatal to ignore state issues but the KCWA, by its enabling legislation, has an obligation to people of Kern County. The task is to balance priorities with the resources available.
Bruce Hafenfeld, 65, Kern River Valleyrancher, Division 2.
1. My business is very depenant on an adequate water supply. I know what it is like to be short and over regulated. I believe I can bring to the table hands-on experience.
2. Any water issue is a big deal. The SWP is one that we must be sitting at the table or we might tbe on the table. Groundwater banking is vital to Kern, we need more storage and more delivery capacity.
3. From the outside looking in, it look like an easy decision, but to make a well informed decision, I would like to totally understand the contractural and beneficial use issues before taking a position.
4. & 5. I understand fiscal accountability, we do it eery day, we all have to make cuts and spend limited revenues wisely. Raising awareness is not always the answer or easy, someone has to pay more!
6. Water sales and transfers, wheeling, are an important component of overall water management. If Kern opted not to engae they would face isolation. We must respect ownership rights as we do property rights. As demand increases in Califonria we must be a player to help meet our needs as well as others.
7. & 8. I am not familiar with it at this time. We do need to manage for overdraft, that's just one reason banking is so important to Kern. In overflow years we should bnak as much as possible, those years are few and far between. Lets not over regulate ourselves!
9. Its one option that is on the table, but the investment must be cost effective with better supply guarantees for delivery percentages. I don't think there is anyone answer that will please all sides, but we can improve the issue if we are engaged as a leaders at the table!
Daures Stephens, 49, retired senior deputy Kern County Sheriff's Department and owner of Kern River Motors
1. I believe my 25 years as a member of the Kern County Sheriff’s Department has allowed me to obtain strong leadership traits that would be an asset to the Kern County Water Agency. Living in Kern County for 40 years, I understand the importance of water to farmers, families, and areas where we have defense installations.
2. The biggest issue facing KCWA is the quality and quantity water along with meeting the water needs of our growing population.
3. In order to increase river flows, you would have to decrease the water level of Lake Isabella. Lake Isabella is defined as a reservoir. The purpose of the reservoir was to prevent flooding in Bakersfield, provide for agricultural needs and assist the Kern River Valley’s economy (i.e. recreation). If there is a surplus of water then that could be an appropriate time to review increase water flows in the Bakersfield area.
4. & 5. All branches of government and the private sector have suffered a decrease in revenue. As a new member of the board, I would have an open and public discussion regarding what areas would be appropriate to cut and how to create a sustainable budget.
6. As it stands, my main goal is to make sure Kern County citizens continue to get the amount of water that is needed for individuals and agriculture.
7. & 8. I support anything that provides information to policy makers to make sure that the needs of the public are met. I am not a strong supporter of any additional regulation on the public, but we must make sure that water rights are not infringed upon by persons that might abuse the water table. Someone could pump an excessive amount of water lowering the water table to surrounding users. I believe this area could use some review.
9. This could be a very positive move and could prevent possible issues with environmentalists. A question that must be addressed is how this project is going to be funded.
10. I believe the initial focus should be on local water issues in order to be better prepared to deal with state water issues and their effects on Kern County water.
Randell Parker, 61, Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Trustee, Division 3 incumbent.
1. As I have for the last three years, my interest is to continue to fairly represent the people of Kern County in their water agency and to increase the economic benefit to all of us from our water. I have no special agenda nor am I backed by any special interests. Of course I fight for more water for our farmers, I've been a farmer, I support them and they support me. However, I reject the notion that some will offer that we need to have all active farmers on your Board, that they some how have all the answers to the difficult challenges that face water in Kern County. As a Director, I bring knowledge, independence and balance.
2. By far the biggest issue facing us is the reduction in delivery of State Water. As our Member Units get less water, they provide less water to their farmers, who are forced to idle land and grow fewer crops, employ fewer workers, and this hurts us all in our Kern County economy. We as the Kern County Water Agency have an important role to play in influencing the co-equal goals of affordable-reliable water, and delta habitat restoration, of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. We fight daily to assure that our future water will be both affordable and reliable in supply.
3. I believe in property rights. If the City of Bakersfield owns the water, and agrees to run it down the riverbed, I too would love to see water in our river. I would hope however that the City will consider the impacts of their removing this water from the historic agricultural users, and the impacts that it will have on their costs and our groundwater levels ( they'll have to pump to replace). Maybe they could compromise.
4. & 5. The Agency has spent its substantial past reserves for the benefit of our member units mostly in litigation and Bay Delta issues. As our reserves have been substantially utilized, this year we have had to balance our budget, and make hard choices on all expenditures. The Agency has no statutory authority to meaningfully increase its revenues. The Agencies budget will not require additional cuts, and our resources are correctly spent to support our key mission, and that is support of our member units in the pursuit of affordable and reliable State water.
6. I oppose the sale of State Water Project water out of this County.The Kern County Water Agency was formed by the voters of Kern County, 50 years ago. They agreed to pay property taxes to create an agency that would contract with the State of California for water. That water brings an economic benefit to all of us in Kern County and is the life's blood of our vibrant agricultural economy. A sale of that water would deprive Kern Counties taxpayers of its economic benefit.
7. & 8. Its a shame that our state wants to regulate our groundwater basin. We are much more knowledgeable about it than they, and data gathering and decision making should be local. That is why the Agency has been supportive of the formation of the committee, by providing staff and facility support.
9. In 1982 I drove a tractor in the "Peripheral Canal" parade we of the Farm Bureau staged down at the farmers market in Los Angeles. We lost the vote for that conveyance facility, and now 30 years later, through the BDCP process we are again moving toward a conveyance facility that will bring water around the fragile Delta, to provide us water south. What we don't know.... how much water will we get, and what will it cost? Yes, I'm all for it, and hope we can afford it.
10. This is a no-brainer. We need to increase our presence in Sacramento, and we need to have a seat at the table where and when every water decision is made. Your Kern County Water Agency is respected by friend and foe alike and by the State and Federal officials and regulators as well. Our voice is heard in Sacramento and Washington DC, we just need the resources to speak a little louder.
Dick Porter, 69, President & Owner, Porter, Citris, Inc., running for Division 3
1. Kern County must have a dependable, reliable and affordable water supply. I have been a farmer for 37 years. Farmers have an intimate relationship with water and live with its importance every day. Farmers possess an urgency regarding water that other people may not possess. I feel this urgency needs a much greater presence on the Kern County Water Agency.
2. The biggest issue by far is the need to transport water through the San Francisco Bay Delta. This is a critical project to maintaining our water supply. So far, pipelines under or around the Delta seem to be one possible solution to accomplishing this.
3. I support putting as much water as possible in the Kern River. How to accomplish this is very complicated and fraught with political and contractual issues. When I served on the Bakersfield Californian Editorial Board in 2008 we discussed this issue with many candidates, and between ourselves, but never arrived at a viable solution.
4. & 5. It is important that public agencies operate as efficiently as possible. As a business owner I look to cut non-essential services and programs. I would expect the Agency to do the same. I do not believe in fees or taxes so I would direct staff to look for creative ways to generate revenues by marketing and managing assets and resources.
6. I do not support the sale of water out of the county unless it can be demonstrated that the state will ultimately generate or bring more water to Kern County.
7. & 8. I am not familiar with this committee or its intentions. Kern leads the nation in groundwater banking projects. These important projects provide an adequate supply of water to our farms, homes and industry in dry years. Without imported and banked water the southern valley would look very different today. I believe in local governmental control and regulation of local resources. If we need regulation it should occur as a result of local interests getting together and implementing responsible regulatory programs.
9. I support any project which provides a cost-effective reliable water supply for Kern County.
10. The KCWA should focus on state water issues. It was formed to represent Kern County on state water issues. Local water districts should be responsible for managing local water resources.
Martin Milobar, 69, retired Engineer-Manager of Buena Vista Water Storage District, running for Division 3
1. After spending my professional career in the water business, I feel that I should attempt to share my in depth experience in water resources in a position where I personally feel that it would be of benefit to our community. I feel that with my education and 35 years of professional experiences in the area of local and statewide water resource issues would enhance the necessary understanding of technical aspects inherent in water policy issues which must be clearly conveyed from Agency staff to the Board in order to make well thought out and valid decisions. I am also interested in maintaining a clear separation among the KCWA and its member units so that member units are more self sufficient and less dependent on the Agency for direction and approvals.
2. The most challenging issue confronting the Ag. community, one of this County's largest employers, is the solution to environmental and water supply reliability problems in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta area. The Bay Delta Conservation Plan and associated Delta Habitat Conservation and Conveyance Program is tasked with formulating a collaborative solution agreeable to all stake-holders in what should be the final major improvements to the State Water Project and the Bureau of Reclamation, Central Valley Project looking forward 50+ years. Other major issues would be the Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program, ILRP, affecting nearly all farming operations in the area and groundwater operations among overlying pumpers and banking operations. Of course, there are numerous other important issues that must be addressed at the KCWA, but in my view, these are high on the priority list of issues.
3. My measure of whether or not Kern River flows should be used for aesthetic purposes versus historical agricultural uses would be based on economic use of a resource and whether such uses would create or cost jobs for the County. I feel that to move Kern River water from agricultural uses which we know sustains the economy and job stability versus intermittent and non-continuous flows down the river as historically occurred prior to Isabella Dam and major growth in this area is missing the mark especially in today's economic environment. In addition, many acres of permanent crops which have relied on this water, if lost to this use, would have no choice but to turn to groundwater pumping. Balancing groundwater pumping with surface water inflows given recent surface water shortages will continue to be a major challenge in the area, not to mention an increased load on limited electrical supplies during the summers when crops demands are at their peak water consumption levels.
4. & 5. Having formulated Water District budgets for 20+ years, the answer to this questions is in the details. I have spoken to Mr. Jim Beck recently and he explained the many effective measures that the Agency has instituted in the past few years to solve their budget issues. My impression is that they have effectively solved their shortfall issues and, going forward, must continue to adhere to such practices and in that way be able to operate within their financial limits. As to increasing revenues, as Mr. Beck explained, the Agency owns certain assets which have value. The Agency and Board of Directors will have to evaluate these assets and determine whether they should continue to hold them as income producers or possibly sell certain assets to bring reserves up to a necessary level.
6. Water sales within the County occurs nearly every year and provides an important means whereby those having intermittent and temporary surplus supplies can provide them to local areas in need. I have personally been involved in an out-of-county water sale which was structured to produce an exportable supply which, without the program's development, was lost to the County during flood years, via the Flood Channel to Tulare Lake or the Calif. Aqueduct Intertie to Los Angeles. Of course, any proposed out of County water sale must offer a local first right of refusal process. I make this point to illustrate that to simply answer a yes or no response does not evaluate the myriad of details that are an integral part of this issue. In addition, State law is developing in this area and the eventual guidelines that may be forthcoming will surely provide further input and direction to this somewhat sensitive area.
7. & 8. In the past, a concerted effort was made to resolve the many contentious issues related to groundwater pumping. Although it failed to produce an agreeable operational process, all involved in the process learned and after having experienced the wet-dry cycle inherent to this arid area, and having dealt with resultant groundwater level fluctuations, I feel that this is a positive process that hopefully will help produce a workable solution to the many issues involved. Of course groundwater management is upon us through State regulations as well as the absolute need for all involved to work towards a local and sustainable groundwater balance process. We must be successful in this important area if we expect to succeed in controlling our destiny here within the County.
I believe that groundwater management/regulation should be done and is undoubtedly most effective and efficient at the local level. Any form of State regulated groundwater management would likely be much less flexible, more costly and formulated by those agencies unfamiliar with the numerous attributes inherent in the southern San Joaquin Valley's groundwater basin and its numerous Water District programs developed over the past 40+ years. The groundwater committee mentioned above are challenged with formulating a lasting program that will be approved at the regulatory level in order for us all to continue managing our resources here within the County.
9. As I noted in question 2, the solution to the problems in the Delta are, in my view, number one as to level of importance. Those involved in the BDCP process, which of course includes the KCWA, are working diligently to find the preferred alternative and the pipeline proposal continues to occupy this spot. Having spent many hours reviewing the various alternatives and supporting documents, I am not surprised that the pipeline proposal remains as the preferred alternative. The most important consideration for local SWP Districts who are being asked if they support the overall fix in the Delta is, can agriculture afford the cost versus the degree of annual sustainable water supplies it will produce. This process is tasked with the balance of environmental benefits and reliable water supplies and if this can be accomplished at an affordable cost to agriculture, the project will be a great success statewide.
10. The KCWA's primary goal has been and continues to be to bring State Water Project water to Kern County to supplement local water supplies and to offset groundwater pumping. Of course, local water issues are always occurring and must be addressed but I feel that most local issues should be addressed at the Water District level and are the primary responsibility of those Boards of Directors.
Division 6 (no incumbent running)
Royce Fast, 55, partner in R & G Farms, running for Division 6
1. We live in a desert region. Water is the life blood, not only for agriculture, but also for the people who live here. I am a fourth generation farmer in the Rosedale area and have served on the Board of Directors for a local water district for 15 years. I am running for the KCWA board to ensure that Kern County will have an adequate water supply for current needs as well as for the needs of future generations. We have to work hard to ensure that we have a sustainable, affordable water supply that we can count on.
2. Since 25% of Kern water is from the state water project, the biggest issue facing the Kern County Water Agency today is the crisis in the delta. We should be actively working with others to solve these problems to provide a reliable and affordable water supply for Kern County.
3. I support the city's effort to return water to the Kern River Channel. Water in the river would provide recreation, aesthetics and recharge for our underground aquifer.
4. & 5. As a businessman I understand financial accountability and would expect the agency to be financially accountable to the community. All expenses should be looked at to ensure that they are consistent with the mission of the Agency and continue to look for elimination of waste. Also revenue streams should be examined to ensure that they are maximized.
6. I support limited water sales that demonstrate that the sale of water will as a whole generate a net gain in water supply to the county.
7. & 8. I am involved in the new local groundwater committee. I believe in local control of our water supplies. Every district has its own unique needs and solutions that are best managed within their district. We also realize that some problems can be better managed by working closely with each other. A good example of this would be on a wet year one district has water and no place to put it and another district has recharge space available.
Water management should be done locally through our local districts working together towards a common goal of a sustainable groundwater basin.
9. The current pipeline proposal is just a part of a larger effort to solve the Delta environmental problems also known as the Bay Delta Habitat and Conservation Program. I wholeheartedly support the endeavor. However, there are problems yet to be solved. 1. The costs are very high, estimated at 13 billion dollars. 2. There is no assurance of how much water we will get. 3. We will be required to pay for the project whether we receive the water supply benefits promised or not.
10. The KCWA was formed by the state legislature. It's primary function is to administer the water supply contract with the state on behalf of water districts within Kern County. . KCWA contracts for about 1 million acre feet of water from the state water project. This represents about 25% of Kern water supply. The local water districts have a very good handle on local water issues and look to the KCWA to represent their interests at the state level.
Loron Hodge, 73, former director of Kern County Farm Bureau
1. I have been involved with the Kern County Water Agency for well over 30 years. I have been fortunate to be included in all the major undertakings of the agency because of my relationship with the farming and water community. The State Water Project is an important water delivery system that has brought significant prosperity to Kern County. I still want to be a part of that.
2. There seems to be a great deal of unrest among the member districts. The Agency was formed to deal with the individual districts and manage the affairs between Kern County and the State Department of Water Resources. Credibility is very important and there needs to be attention paid to why this unrest is being generated and how can it be overcome.
3. The City of Bakersfield bought an entitlement of Kern River Water from the Kern County Land Company in 1977. In order to finance the bonds needed to pay for the purchase, the city has sold water to districts in the county at a premium price. The contracts for this water are or will soon be completed. At that point the city can determine to run their water down the river. However it does not take 50,000 acre feet to make the river bed covered with water. A compromise should be reached so that most of the water is used for irrigation and ground water recharge.
4. & 5. Curtail the trips to Association of California Water Agency. Instead of sending the entire board of directors, send the Chairman, Manager, and one member of the board. There are two conferences a year and agency directors could alternate who would attend. I have been involved with a number of organizations that raise money from various events. I would support raising money from an event. I am against raising taxes or assessments.
6. I do not like to see our water sold to out of county entities. However having said that, I do understand why it is done. Water projects are very expensive. District improvements can overwhelm property owners. A way to finance these projects to sell some of the districts entitlements of state water. Any water or entitlement to be sold out of county should first be offered to other county districts before a deal is made. The problem with that is irrigation districts cannot pay the price developers are prepared to pay. Kern River water should not leave the county. This is the only water source that we can claim as our own. The only exception in during extremely wet years when all our reservoirs are full.
7. & 8. I have no objections as long as there is a need and goals for the committee are well established. Ground water is an important element of our overall water supply and it must be managed properly.
9. We need an isolated facility to move water around the Delta. The pipeline proposal may be an answer but we must be careful. A lot is at stake, namely money and what will we receive as a result? One thing is for sure, we are going to be in a lot of trouble if here is a 6.5 or greater earthquake that hits the Delta area. It's going to happen. When it does we better have something in place to get fresh water to us. A pipeline could be the answer.
10. We need to be a player in the overall state water picture. Our water resources, what are available, how we use water, and the benefits we derive affect all Californians whether they realize it or not. Yes we must have a presence in Sacramento. Legislation that impacts our ability to provide a stable water supply is always with us. Either we tune in our we are tuned out.