Valley water keeps flowing toward Southern California

FRESNO, Calif.

The Dudley Ridge Water District sold the rights to 14 thousand acre feet of water to the Mojave Water District in Southern California last year for $73-million. Dudley Ridge Water District Manager Dale Melville explained it this way. "It's an economic business decision the landowners needed to make."

The sale raised alarm bells in Kings County, and prompted a Grand Jury Investigation. Which found no wrongdoing. But State Assembly member Juan Arambula was concerned. "I think what is going on might be legal, but it's not right."

Arambula fears such transfers will cost jobs in the Central Valley. He introduced a bill in the state legislature to require a study be done to determine the economic impact of such transfers before they can be approved. The measure failed with heavy opposition from agriculture, and southern California cities.

The Mojave water transfer was followed by another Dudley Ridge deal. One farmer just sold nine hundred acres of his land, and its water rights, to the Irvine Ranch Water District in Orange County for about $14-Million. Melville says farmers in the district would rather farm, but he says they may sell what water they have because of the year to year uncertainty of how much water they will get. "You can't farm a permanent crop on a fluctuating water supply."

On Monday October 25th, The Dudley Ridge Water District Board will consider another proposed permanent transfer of water, to the Tejon Water District, South of Bakersfield. The deal could be worth about $12-million, for less than two thousand acre feet of water. The District puts the selling price at $5,850 an acre foot. Growers pay a maximum of about $500 an acre foot for water coming from the state water project. Arambula says such deals can raise questions about what Valley farmers need. "I think it's somewhat hypocritical to say we need water so we can continue farming. Please, please help us pass a bond that will provide the water, and then turn around and sell it for ten times what they pay for it. I think it's wrong."

One acre foot of water is about what one average household uses per year.

Temporary transfers between water districts are common, but the recent and pending Dudley Ridge deals are unique in that they involve permanent transfers of water, from Valley farms to southern California cities.

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