You have heard that whiskey is for drinking and water for fighting over. Well, Kings County is ready for the next round in its face-off with Kern County's Semitropic Water Storage District as the district seeks to build a reservoir near Kettleman City to capture Kings River floodwater and ship it out of the county.

This week the Kings County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to protest that plan - providing comments to the district’s EIR before the comment period closes Oct. 13.

The county resolution says the county is ready to oppose the project in court if need be. Supervisor Doug Verboon says he has helped collect some powerful allies in the coming battle to be played out in front of the State Water Quality Control Board in coming months.

“We talked to Fresno County, Fresno Irrigation District and Tulare County and they are all with us to oppose this,” Verboon said.

Other King's districts are opposed as well.

County staffer Greg Gatzka says Fresno County’s opposition is already in writing and “Tulare County takes the issue up next week.”

The state water board must approve any plan to appropriate river water. A spokesperson for the board says the “Kings River (Fresno and Kings counties) is currently considered fully appropriated and thus, we generally cannot accept any applications for water right permits. Earlier this year, we received two petitions to revise the ‘fully appropriated’ status of the river for the purpose of applying for water right permits to divert water from the river. We are currently considering the petitions and our likely next step would be to provide public notice of the petitions to solicit comments.”

Some two weeks before Semitropic filed its petition, Fresno Irrigation District, which is located in the Kings River watershed, filed a petition ahead of it.

Verboon doesn’t mince words when describing the Semitropic project that he considers "a shell game.”

“They end up taking our water and selling to Metropolitan Water District or Kern County’s Mr. Wonderful down there.”

To apply to do the project – Semitropic, based in Wasco, reportedly paid $40 million to buy an easement on property owned by John Vidovich, part of Westlake Farms land next to Highway 41, where the South Fork of the Kings ends up.

Vidovich, a farmer himself, has plenty of farmer enemies in the Central Valley who say he has a record of selling water, both surface and groundwater, out of the area, sometimes to urban users for eye-popping figures.

In Tulare County's Pixley, a water district sued Vidovich over moving groundwater out of its boundaries. Pixley’s suit in 2013 was successful and Vidovich was ordered to limit pumping of well fields within the district.

The area south of Corcoran has been affected by severe land subsidence.

Semitropic argues that capturing the flood water could reduce the potential to damage nearby prime agricultural lands and local communities and put floodwater to beneficial use in their district, transported down the California Aqueduct.

But Kings River users are wary of tapping the river’s "unallocated floodwaters," fearing that Semitropic might take the water they need to refill local aquifers.

“We’ve got areas of our county that are severely over-drafted, some of the most over-drafted aquifers in the state,” says Supervisor Craig Pederson. “So anything that’s going to attempt to move surface water, which is going to be our lifeblood in meeting the demands of SGMA, is a concern to us.”

Pederson is referring to the new state groundwater management law that local farmers must comply with. Kings officials say they need all the groundwater recharge they can muster.

Then there is the fact that Semitropic not only wants to take Kings River water but also get state funds to do it. The water storage district needs $500 million to build the reservoir, pipeline and other infrastructure and has applied for $250 million from Prop 1 monies to help fund it. That is the same pot of money that could go to Temperance Flat.

John Lindt is an independent business reporter. He can be reached at sierra2thesea@gmail.com

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