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In The News

Kern County water deal floats Bay area development


Bakersfield Californian, 3/01/10

Hundreds of millions of gallons of Kern County water will be sold to power a water exchange that could allow an Arizona developer to build a major housing development in the San Francisco Bay-side hamlet of Redwood City.

The San Mateo County Times reported Monday that developer DMB Associates has worked a deal with Nickel Family LLC, a longtime Kern County family farming collective, to secure water for the 12,000-home Saltworks development between San Francisco and San Jose.

Nickel family spokesman Jim Nickel said an annual entitlement of 8,393 acre feet -- roughly 2.7 million gallons -- has been leased to DMB for 35 years, with provisions for another 35-year extension.

The Saltworks project would, the San Mateo Times reported, receive about 591 million gallons a year of Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta water as part of the DMB deal with the Nickel family.

The water, Nickel said, is part of a reliable 10,000 acre feet annual entitlement the family acquired from the Kern County Water Agency in 2000 in exchange for the family's right to an average of 50,000 acre feet of less-reliable "high-flow" water -- which only comes in above-average rainfall years.

Jim Beck of the Kern County Water Agency said the agency delivers stored water and "flood water" from the Friant-Kern Canal and the Kern River to the Nickel family and helps the family arrange water swaps that allow the sale of the water to users across the state.

Jim Nickel said the 2000 water deal with the Water Agency was good for his family and good for the county.

The family wanted a flow of water that was reliable because, he said, "we wanted the ability to get the water on the aqueduct to market it."

But the Kern County Water Agency ultimately was able to capture more Kern River water and store it in Kern County, argued Beck.

Beck stated firmly that the water the agency delivers to the Nickels is "high-flow water that would have otherwise have left the county."

In exchange, Kern County Water Agency is able to capture 40,000 acre feet of water that would have otherwise left the county.

"It's been a great program for Kern County and the water users of the area," Beck said.

Jim Nickel said the family has also sold some of its water allotment to Newhall Land and Farming in Southern California for land development.

DMB Associates is also building the Tejon Mountain Village project in cooperation with Tejon Ranch.

Robert Kunde of the Wheeler-Ridge Maricopa Water Storage District said some of the water from the Nickel rights was offered to Kern County agricultural interests.

But because the water is reliable, Kunde said it is also too expensive for agricultural interests.

"I think it's something like $600 an acre foot," he said. "Agriculture can't afford that kind of water."


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