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Meeting: Rosedale-Rio Bravo Water Storage District board of directors
Meeting Date: January 9, 2023
Agenda and Board packet: CLICK HERE
Major topic: Kern County Water Agency
Details: During an update report on the Kern County Water Agency, Rosedale-Rio Bravo board members expressed their frustration with the agency.
Background: The agency was created in the 1960s as the California State Water Project (SWP) was being constructed to bring water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to towns and farms as far south as the Los Angeles basin via the California Aqueduct. It is the second largest contractor on the SWP.
The agency acts as the SWP main contractor on behalf of 13 local water districts, which are known as “member units.”
The agency also provides drinking water for large parts of east Bakersfield through its treatment plant, owns lower river rights and owns or participates in large groundwater banking projects. Because it also has broad taxation powers, its board of directors is elected by Kern County voters at large, unlike water districts where only landowners can vote for board members.
Frustrations: Rosedale-Rio Bravo board members said at the district’s recent meeting that the agency puts more weight on answering to the general public, not the member units. As the agency derives revenue from the public and member units, the agency should answer to both groups, board members said.
“Our landowners elect all of you (Rosedale-Rio Bravo board members) to represent them to the Kern County Water Agency” said Dan Bartel, General Manager. But the agency seems to want the landowners themselves to engage with the agency instead of water districts, he said.
Bartel also said the agency is often a participant in the projects that it is managing. That puts other project participants at a disadvantage as decisions are always made by the agency to the agency’s preference.
“If there is a decision: Do I do X or Y? Well we [the agency] like Y, so we are going to do Y, and then you have to take us to court if you think it is X,” Bartel said by way of explanation.
Currently Rosedale-Rio Bravo has two legal actions involving the agency. One lawsuit regards issues with the Cross Valley Canal and the other is over Rosedale-Rio Bravo’s quest to import water it owns on the South Fork of the Kern above Lake Isabella.
Rosedale-Rio Bravo board member Mitch Millwee, commented that it feels like the agency’s board is talking down to people in its meetings. He said it seems like the agency is telling attendees what to do and not opening things up for discussion.
Bartel also noted that the agency is paid millions of dollars for future projects but still needs to hire an Engineering and Groundwater Services Manager to oversee those projects.
When Bartel asked an agency board member why the position was still vacant after one month, the agency’s response was that “people just don’t want to come to Bakersfield,” he said.
Bartel said he viewed that answer as an excuse, and that it spoke to the agency’s lack of relationships. The way you get staff is through relationships with entities, and the agency isn’t fostering those, said Bartel.
In other action: The board agreed to buy about 50 acres for future potential use by the district and declared the purchase exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act.
District staff also reported that water levels in well on Mayer Avenue that had been down, have come up about nine feet.
How to attend: Rosedale- Rio Bravo meets at 8 a.m. on the 2nd Tuesday of each month at their district office located at 849 Allen Road