Agriculture · Hanford

State rebuffs Kettleman City’s pleas for minimum water supplies in 2022

State water regulators have a harsh message for Kings County’s tourist stop-over town of Kettleman City: pray for rain.

The town, which sits at the intersection of Highway 41 and Interstate 5, is more than a popular stopping point between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

It’s home to a highly-impoverished community of farmworkers facing dire straits over its water supply.

Water officials with the Kettleman City Community Services District, the principal agency supplying water to residents and businesses, began issuing doom-filled warnings about the community running out of water by the end of 2021.

In the face of those warnings, the Kings County Board of Supervisors directed Edward Hill, the county’s Chief Administrative Officer, to press officials with the California Department of Water Resources to step in and help out Kettleman City.

State Sen. Melissa Hurtado (D–Sanger) and Asm. Rudy Salas (D–Bakersfield) also wrote a letter to the department, seeking intercession for the soon to be parched community. 

Those requests, it appear, will not be fully met. 

Kings County told the state that Kettleman City needs an emergency allocation of 310 acre-feet of water in order to meet the demands of the small community.

In her response to the county, Department of Water Resources Director Karla Nemeth said the state will work with Kings County to ensure that Kettleman City receives an allocation of 96 acre-feet.

That allocation is projected to cover baseline health and safety supply needs for Kettleman City, such as basic sanitation, domestic supply and fire suppression. 

“Meeting these needs, along with meeting similar needs from many of our other customer agencies, will be the [State Water Project’s] first priority,” Nemeth wrote. 

The remaining 214 acre-feet, however, would be used for commercial purposes and is not a priority for the state.

Beyond agriculture, Kettleman City’s commercial corridor – replete with a Tesla Supercharger station and lounge, In-N-Out Burger, and handful of other restaurants and rest stops – is a major boon to Kings County’s local economy.

With the drought worsening, Nemeth said the plan for the State Water Project will be guided by the following four priorities, ranking from most to least importance: 

  1. Health and safety supplies
  2. To protect and benefit endangered species
  3. To conserve critical storage in case of a dry 2023
  4. To meet additional water supply needs if sufficient supplies exist

“As for the 214 acre-feet requested in addition to the health and safety need, that falls under the fourth priority identified for direct SWP water supply use in 2022,” Nemeth wrote. “While the water supply conditions for next year are unknown, it is very possible that water will not be available to meet these requests.”

Nemeth said the Department of Water Resources has engaged with other agencies to identify water to direct to Kettleman City to meet the commercial needs. 

The department is willing to meet with commercial water users to help arrange the purchase of water from other contractors, but Nemeth noted, “DWR cannot use state funding to purchase water for commercial businesses.”

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.