Agriculture · Hanford

Kings Co. nears deal to stave off water shortage in Kettleman City

After months of uncertainty as water supplies dwindled, Kings County is set to resolve Kettleman City’s water crisis for the next year – for a price.

The Kings County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to approve an agreement with the Mojave Water Agency on Tuesday for the transfer of 235 acre-feet of water.

Kings County will pay $329,000 – $1,400 per acre-foot – as part of the agreement, which will come from the Kettleman City Community Services District Reserve Fund.

The district, sources tell The Sun, is seeking a bevy of state and Federal grants to balance the books on its water purchase while exploring infrastructure options to mitigate its contaminated groundwater.

All the while, local officials have grown dismayed at state water leaders who presided over a considerable flush of December stormwater to the Pacific Ocean.

The water crisis facing the southwestern Kings County town notable for serving as a stopover at the intersection of Interstate 5 and Highway 41 dates back to the early fall.

In October, Kettleman City’s water provider notified the state that the small unincorporated town was facing the possibility of running out of water in December.

The board of supervisors previously asked the California Department of Water Resources to provide 310 acre-feet of water to cover all of the impoverished community’s needs.

But the state partially rebuffed Kings County’s request, only offering 96 acre-feet to meet baseline health and safety needs, such as basic sanitation, domestic supply and fire suppression, leaving commercial users hung out to dry. 

California water officials followed up with a notice to all water users that it would be granting zero water allocation from the State Water Project, an historic first amid an ever-worsening drought.

Continuing in that vein, a December notice from the State Water Project did not alleviate any concerns for Kettleman City, reaffirming the Department of Water Resources’ 96 acre-feet total for the town. 

As the drought continued on in late 2021, Kettleman City found itself facing a water shortfall of 235 acre-feet with the total need coming in at 331 acre-feet for 2022. 

With the Mojave Water Agency agreeing to the 235 acre-feet deal, the Kettleman City Community Services District could receive funding from the federal government to help cover the cost. 

In December, Rep. David Valadao (R–Hanford) penned a letter to the United States Department of Agriculture requesting the approval of a grant to fund a long-term solution to the water crisis. 

In the meantime, Kettleman City’s water provider is targeting the rehabilitation of the Becky Pease Well as well as the construction of a new well, which would run a total cost of $2.1 million. 

“[T]he CSD (Community Services District) will be forced to blend arsenic-ridden groundwater with surface water when surface water supply runs low to bring water quality to potable levels,” Valadao wrote. 

In response, USDA Acting State Director Patricia Gerald said the department would give full consideration for an Emergency Community Water Assistance Grant. 

“Please know that it is our goal to assist Kettleman City CSD meet their current water needs as well as assisting them achieve access to a reliable and safe water source,” Gerald said.

Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.