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The Dudley Ridge Water District was hardly a household name until last September. 

All it took was a little headline-grabbing controversy - the $73 million sale of water rights from the south Kings County water agency to Southern California. The result was an investigation by the Kings County grand jury, whose findings were released in June.

Officials with the southern Kings County water agency were satisfied with the finding that the sale was completely legal, but took issue with recommendations that there be "more forceful oversight" to discourage permanent water transfers like the one done by Dudley Ridge.

The agency also says the report ignored how the drought and environmental regulations have affected the district, severely reducing its state water supply and leaving some farmers in untenable situations.

"We suffered a greater impact than most other districts that have combinations of surface water as well as ground water and some local water supplies to blend together and keep the cost down and the reliability up," said Dale Melville, manager-engineer of the district. "We're totally dependent on the state water project, so changes in cost and reliability have a much bigger impact on us."

Melville was responding to the grand jury report, which took to task Kings County decision-makers and the state Department of Water Resources for a perceived lack of effort to fight the sale. The grand jury is an independent body assembled of county residents that each year investigates various public bodies analyzing their practice.

While the report made it clear that the sale was found to be conducted legally, it still called for county leaders and state water officials to do more to protect farmers from the thirst of urban water users in light of the unreliability of the water supply on the west side.

That's where the Dudley Ridge Water District feels uneasy.

"The district and the county are sister agencies, and each is an independent political subdivision of the state," the response stated. "Neither has authority over the other, and each is an independent political subdivision of the state."

The district did say it shares the grand jury's concern about the preservation of irrigated agriculture and water supplies in Kings County and will follow recommendations to ensure wide and thorough public notification regarding any future transactions.

"None of us is happy to see the water leave the county, but the liability from the state water project is forcing farmers to consider the water transfer. It's a business decision that needs to be made when the water supply isn't reliable enough to irrigate permanent crops and the cost becomes higher and higher."

The written response by the water agency, filed with Kings County Superior Court presiding judge George Orndoff, was discussed by the county Water Commission during Monday's meeting.

Also presented during the discussion was a staff-prepared draft response by the Board of Supervisors to the grand jury report.

The draft letter by and large affirms the grand jury recommendations that the Water Commission must advise supervisors on water issues and county officials must stay alert when it comes to the loss of water and be aware of opportunities to weigh in on matters affecting the county.

County Administrative Officer Larry Spikes cautioned that the document is not final. He said the intent was to receive comments from the commission to make necessary revisions before presenting it to the Board of Supervisors for adoption. The final draft response is expected to be voted on within three weeks, Spikes said.

The reporter can be reached at 583-2429.

 

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