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Buena Vista Water Storage District May 18, 2022

The Buena Vista Water Storage District held its board of directors meeting on Wednesday, May 18, 2022. I got there late at 1:02pm and they’d started at 1:00pm so I missed almost half a typical BV meeting. Terry Chica was sitting at the head of the table and is now the chairman. John Vidovich was sitting on the side of the table and you don’t have to stand up to ask questions anymore. The first item before I got there was election of officers so things have changed but are still familiar.

The Meeting

Attorney Isaak St. Lawrence reported you can watch six and half days of hearings on the Kern River appropriations challenge taking place at the State Board Office of Administrative Hearings on Youtube. St. Lawrence said the next hearing is scheduled for June 20-24. He said the hearings largely consisted of the Kern Water Bank spending time attacking BV’s rights to Kern River water but he felt BV’s 150,000 a/f claim has been consistent and believes BV will prevail. General Manager Tim Ashlock thanked the growers for the questions they asked about the Kern River at the recent growers’ luncheon. He said it got him tuned up because the growers’ lunch time questions were far tougher than the cross examination he went through at the hearing.


Back in the latter half of the 19th century the Kern River has been fought over about as much as any water in California. There is a long history of arguing. Henry Miller of Miller & Lux got into a big legal wrestling match with a cat named James Ben Ali Haggin. According to Wikipedia (one of the freshest sources of opinion available) Haggin started diverting water from the Kern River upstream from Miller & Lux’s property. Enough water was diverted to kill about 10,000 head of Miller & Lux cattle. After a series of lawsuits and appeals the California Supreme Court ruled Miller & Lux did have riparian rights to the Kern River which Haggin had infringed. The Kern River yield was divided up by the court.

In addition to the current legal claims before the State Board’s Office of Administrative Hearings others who want to see the Kern River flow through Bakersfield year round are weighing in on the aesthetic pleasantries. They should listen to Merle Haggard’s song Kern River. I’ve been told had Bakersfield grown as much eastward instead of as it has to the west much of the city could enjoy more opportunity to watch water flow past. But I wonder if any of these folks have gone out on a clear day and taken a look at the Sierra Nevada? There’s not a lot of snow and before dams were built some of the rivers didn’t flow through droughts. I’ve heard during pre-dam droughts salt water from San Francisco Bay would intrude all the way to Sacramento and Stockton in the Delta from a lack of snowmelt providing enough flow to keep it back.

To Pump or Not to Pump

There will perhaps be pumping starting at the Palms Reserve. Vidovich said that land has been fallow and not pumped. He said it’s in the EIR to use that water in a year like this. I believe BV is going to provide 2.8 a/f per acre and that will require pumping to meet the demands. Chicca said getting wells up and running may be difficult with the permitting situation. St. Lawrence said to expect to get sued on the EIR and there is a possible temporary restraining order to get past before taking water. The land in question is also in the KGAGSA and not the Buena Vista GSA so under the Gov’s Executive Order there has to be some agreement between the GSA and the county. Ashlock said gains from the Kern River allocations will be absorbed from evaporation and channel loss.

A grower asked who pays for the district pumping from district wells. Ashlock said the district pays for the pumping as this supply is part of the district. However the growers pay for the water on an acre foot basis. Ashlock also said it should be relatively easy to get a well permit in BV as it is its own GSA provided Kern County is willing.

A Sidetrack About Well Permits

At the Water Association of Kern County summit in Bakersfield held Thursday, May 19th Paul Gosselin, Director of Sustainable Groundwater Management said DWR wants the GSAs to succeed. He was peppered with questions and spoke forthrightly. DWR works for the governor in as much as it is part of the administrative function of the executive office. I tried to get in a question about which Junior High the intern who wrote the actual wording of the Gov’s Executive Order, specifically Part 9 paragraphs a and b concerning well permitting by the counties and GSAs – attended. Wasn’t able to field that one, but if I understood Gosselin new wells are under more scrutiny and old well repairs and replacements under less. So, after creating chaos hither and yon the blows are being absorbed and some well drilling permits are starting to emerge from the dust, ash and smoke of that order. I just got word a grower in Tulare County was able to get a replacement/repair permit. It is telling however, a district like Buena Vista within its own GSA has to jump through additional hoops during a drought year to drill a well covered in a CEQA approved project.

Back to the Palms Project

Back to pumping from the Palms as a source of groundwater. The board thought it wise to form a committee that covers both the north and south area of the district and to include St. Lawrence as there may be some new twists of a possible legal nature that need to be straightened out. Everyone in the room agreed if next year is dry they’re going to need every possible avenue to get water. Chicca said in his opinion each farmer in BV needs to take care of his supply and make sure his wells are working. He said he doesn’t want the district to get in the business of pumping for others. But in the case of catastrophic well failure the district can help.

The EIR for the Palms allows up to 14 new wells. Grower Rod Stiefvater reminded everyone the cost of wells and well maintenance is going through the roof. With that the meeting was adjourned at 1:41pm. Not as short as a Vidovich meeting but a good bar for Chicca to have set. Good for him.

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ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Copyright 2022 by WaterWrights.net/DAW

Buena Vista Water Storage District was organized in 1924 to manage the irrigation, drainage systems and water rights originally held by Miller & Lux. The district controls an average 130,000 a/f of Kern River water and approximately 21,000 a/f of supplies from the State Water Project. BVWSD is its own GSA. Board of Directors meetings are held the 3rd Wednesday of the month at district headquarters located at: 525 North Main Street, Buttonwillow, CA 93206. Phone: 661/324-1101 www.bvh20.com  DWR SGMA# 5-022.14

Board-President: Terry Chicca, VP: John Vidovich, Secretary: Jeof Wyrick, Julien Parsons, Craig Andrew

Staff-General Manager/Engineer: Tim Ashlock, Engineer Amrit Mangat, Controller: Marybeth Brooks, Attorney: Isaac St. Lawrence


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