The Kings River Water Association held its Tuesday June 20, 2023 meeting at its south Fresno headquarters in a building it shares with the Kings River Conservation District. KRWA is as interesting an organization as the Kings River is an interesting river. Like Kelley and Alcoholics Anonymous it has a Big Blue Book. I’ve never seen the actual Blue Book but I imagine it being printed on papyrus, bound in Tule Elk leather. Of course, it’s stored in a buried vault located at the end of a booby trapped tunnel. When exhumed it’s handled with white, cotton gloves – the kind archivist wear when touching Greek codex from the early Dark Ages – and a ceremonial pointer crafted by virgins from Valley Oak inlaid with mother of pearl from freshwater mussels is used as a place marker for common reference when looking up passages.
Within this book are ancient alchemic theorems, formulas and equations that determine who within the exclusive club of water rights holders along the Kings River gets how much water and when they get it under varying hydrologic conditions. These rights are being assaulted by the Semitropic tribe in the far off kingdom of Kern. That’s one thing that makes the KRWA interesting. Let us say for a moment the KRWA website was even a smidgen more informative, I might have written the above with more conviction as to the facts instead of the supposition laid out.
Another thing that makes KRWA interesting is the Kings River is the main source of water for Tulare Lake. Tulare Lake was the largest by area body of fresh water west of the Mississippi River before dams were built. It seems to surprise some folks that this lake would once again fill during a record wet year. In 1862, long before the scary 12-years left to live due to climate change the Central Valley flooded. By some accounts more than 4,000 people and 200,000 head of cattle drowned. Yet dams are a bad thing to some folks. What would the enviros do without them? Shimmy up Mt. Sutro and hang on?
The meeting was called to order at 10:00am by Chairman Frank Zonneveld. Roll call was taken and a quorum was in place. In public comment Kings River Conservation District CEO Dave Merritt introduced Brandi Swisher as the new Communications Director for KRDC. Swisher is filling some big shoes following Cristel Tufenkjian moving from that position to Lt. General Manager of the McMullin Area GSA. Swisher has plenty of experience and chops as she was with Fresno Metropolitan Flood Control for more than a decade.
Kings River Water Master Steve Haugen gave the water report saying Pine Flat has more than 676,000 a/f in storage with more than 300,000 a/f in upstream storage. Releases are 9,800 cfs. There are 275 cfs on the South Fork and it is all going to irrigation. No more flood releases on the South Fork of the Kings River. It’s been a gentle spring and the massive snowmelt didn’t transpire.
There are a number of snow sensors in the Kings watershed that have been damaged and due to weather conditions they haven’t been repaired yet. The latest ASO flight shows more than one million acre feet of water in the snowpack is still up there.
Haugen showed samples of water content and there are many record numbers. The current basin average is 171-percent of normal. The B-120 forecast shows the April/July water content at 3,150,000 a/f in the watershed. The forecasted temperatures between now and the end of summer are normal and so are precipitation forecasts.
Dennis Mills, GM Kings County Water Authority asked if the weather continues as mild as it has been what will happen in August. Haugen said the month of August has varied considerably during the four wettest years on record. There is a chance of continued flood releases in August.
Haugen said the homes at the Wildwood Golf Course in the Kingsburg area are on a stretch of the Kings River with banks eroding. There are sandbags and other measures in place but the county is looking at a possible evacuation. But the channel is beginning to accept the flow load and things could be OK. Attorney Doug Jensen asked about conditions in Firebaugh. For some reason the Firebaugh Police headquarters building has a basement and it is taking water.
Haugen reported the State Water Resources Control Board has started updating the water rights records. The State Board is looking to put together an advisory committee. There is interest in having KRWA to be a part of this. They are looking for a maximum of 20-members from a diverse range of interests. Haugen said he believes it would be a good idea for KRWA to apply. As they say, “If you’re not at the table, you are on the table.” It will be two meetings a year and the Executive Committee thought Haugen was a good choice.
Randy McFarland said he had no report save the number of media requests has vanished. Haugen said once the flood releases were lowered that stopped most of the request. None of the sheriffs offices of the three counties’ where the river flows have yet to clear the Kings River for recreational use. If it gets hot July 4th the officers will have their hands full trying to enforce anything like a no swim policy.
Attorney Joe Hughes had nothing for open session.
Legislative committee consultant Alex Dominguez said he has been attending many, many meetings and has seen the opposition to the three big water rights bills: SB 389, AB 460 and AB 1337. He said AB 460’s author Assemblywoman Rebecca Bauer-Kahan or RBK, has dug her heels in and isn’t willing to work with the water community. That’s what I’ve been hearing also. It sounded to me like there is some hope for SB 389 being amended in a way that could actually be helpful. Let’s see what happens with that. Attorney Lauren Layne added there is some indication AB 1337’s author Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks may be willing to amend the bill to make it more palatable. Let’s see what happens to that one too. On the federal side Congressmen David Valadao and John Duarte are working to introduce some positive water legislation.
The Waters of the United States was on trial before the Supreme Court and it was a win for private property. I believe this was the case involving the Sackett family of Idaho. If you’re a fan of Louie L’Amour that’s the perfect name for a Western showdown. The ruling was the government couldn’t enforce an imaginary connection between Waters of the United States and private property. The Sacketts wanted to build a house on the shore of Priest Lake in an already developed community. A neighbor complained and the Environmental Protection Agency shut down the construction. The Sacketts sued. That was 14-years ago.
The Natural Resources Defense Council has a page on its website called “Explainer”. You can almost hear the steam whistling out of the author’s ears. “Unfortunately, a majority of the justices used the case as a tool for dramatically weakening the Clean Water Act – by deciding for themselves, without any scientific support whatsoever, what wetlands deserve protection from pollution and destruction.” Emphasis mine.
This makes me ask a couple of questions. Who is supposed to make decisions for the Supreme Court if not the justices deciding for themselves? And, is it possible a 14-year long legal case involving the EPA made its way to the Supreme Court with no scientific support whatsoever?
Next the Fish & Wildlife Committee report was given by Matt Meadows remotely. Meadows said the Public Advisory Group could meet in July if access to the Kings River is allowed. The clean up programs should begin then as well. This is when volunteers go along the river and pick up trash. Good for them. The fall fish survey is dependent on flows so more info after the flows slow down.
Other Business & Closed Session
The meeting went into closed session at 10:58am. I then moseyed over to the Westlands Water District meeting that had started at 9am. Since I got there late I didn’t write up a report. These meetings are not about water, they are about people. They are long conversations between people. Sometimes, well really quite often, when you enter a conversation halfway in you don’t know what’s going on. It’s also a bit like learning a new language – if you know the context of the conversation you can’t listen and understand better than you can speak.
So, with that meandering preamble I can say this about Westlands – despite rumors to the contrary they are working on getting as much recharge in the ground as they can. Staff is still held as valuable by the board and while not everyone is happy, things are moving in a good direction.
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KINGS RIVER WATER ASSOCIATION – 4886 E. Jensen Avenue, Fresno, CA 93725 559/237-5567 www.kingsriverwater.org
Staff: Water Master – Steve Haugen, Attorney – Joe Hughes, Assistant Water Master – Mark Meadows
Board: Frank Zonneveld – Chair, Ryan Jacobsen – Vice Chair, Phil Desatoff, Jerry Halford, John Mendes, Ronnie Silva, Bill Stretch & Jeof Wyrick