State gives more water to popular I-5 pitstop, but locals say it won’t be enough

October 26, 2021
Jesse Vad, SJV Water reporting intern
by Jesse Vad, SJV Water reporting intern
Kettleman City's commercial district, which caters to motorists along Interstate 5 in western Kings County, could run out of water by December. CREDIT: Kings County
Jesse Vad, SJV Water reporting intern
Jesse Vad, SJV Water reporting intern

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Christmas travelers driving Interstate 5 this year may need to hunt up a different stopping point as Kettleman City could be shut down for lack of water.

The state Department of Water Resources (DWR) has said it will give the tiny community in western Kings County a few more acre feet of water — but only enough for the personal taps of its 1,100 residents.

The town’s gas stations and fast food joints that bring in droves of motorists on busy holidays could be left high and dry.

Kettleman City needs about 310 acre feet from the State Water Project every year to supply both residents and its bustling commercial district. But this year, it survived on only 290 acre feet, most of that from what it had previously stored.

Now, it’s about to be flat out of water. Area representatives began writing to DWR Oct. 1 pleading for more.

The state granted only 96 acre feet more, which can only be used by residents for basic health and safety, according to an October 18 letter from Karla Nemeth, Director of DWR.

Nemeth noted that the first priority for scarce water supplies is health and safety, second is protection and benefit for endangered species, third is to conserve critical storage in case of another dry year and last is to meet additional water supply needs if possible. The more than 200 acre feet of additional water for Kettleman City falls under the last priority, wrote Nemeth.

Her letter noted that DWR staff is working with other water agencies to see if any could sell Kettleman City some extra water. But the state could not use tax dollars to buy water for the businesses.

That didn’t sit well with local representatives.

“That commercial and business district goes hand in hand with the health and safety of the residents of Kettleman City, meaning those businesses provide jobs to the people in the community that work there, provide health benefits to the residents there,” said Richard Valle, who represents Kettleman City on the Kings County Board of Supervisors. “If you don’t allow us to add them in the equation to deliver more acre feet of water then it’s unfair, it’s unjust and it’s unacceptable.”

Those businesses, which make the town a popular stop for travelers between Los Angeles and San Francisco, could run out of water by December.

“They’ve treated us with no respect,” said Doug Verboon, a member of the Kings County Board of Supervisors, said of the state’s meager allocation. “Why are you punishing a small community that has no money because of a drought year?”

DWR officials were expected to meet with Kings County representatives Tuesday to further discuss the issue. The issue  attracted the attention of Congressman David Valadao (R-Hanford) who wrote a letter in support of more water for the town’s businesses as well.

He is disappointed there isn’t more infrastructure and reliability when it comes to water for Kettleman City, a community that has struggled with water problems for decades.

“I feel that we’re treated unfair in the case of Kettleman City,” said Valle. “We have more weight on our shoulders when we take two steps forward and now get knocked eight steps back.”

Jesse Vad, SJV Water reporting intern }

SJV Water is an independent, nonprofit news site dedicated to covering water in the San Joaquin Valley. Get inside access to SJV Water by becoming a member.

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