If you want to see the future of California fill up your tank with $4.80 per gallon gasoline and take the Golden State autobahn better known as Interstate 5 and head 160 miles south to Kettleman City.
It’s slightly bigger than the proverbial wide spot on the road. It is home to around 1,200 souls of which most are in households where often both parents toil in fields sometimes along with their teen-age children who join them during summers, weekends, and even after school
This is also a place where one of the world’s two largest Tesla supercharging stations is located with 96 chargers. The other is in Baker.
The reason for that is the same reason why Kettleman City has hung on for generations. It is roughly mid-point between Los Angeles and San Francisco at the junction of Highway 41 that takes you toward the coast.
As such the good jobs that don’t require breaking one’s back in the fields and allow teens to help support their families without sacrificing their bodies to repeated stooping and squatting are those serving the traveling public.
It makes places like In-N-Out Burger one of the biggest employers in town with highly coveted jobs.
No, this is not a column per se about the growing fissure separating the working class along with the shrinking middle class from those whose six-figure incomes that are on top of stock dole outs.
It’s about water.
Or, more precisely, it’s about who and what gets water in the apocalyptic world the current California drought is creating along with myopic decrees by water bureaucrats with cushy desk jobs in Sacramento who never worry whether water will flow from the tap when they turn it on.
Kettleman City relies on water captured hundreds of miles away behind State Water Project dams on the Feather and American rivers as do the agricultural operations on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley that helps feed the rest of the state and nation as well as provide jobs for the region.
It’s the same reservoirs that fish in the Delta and folks in Beverly Hills and other spots south of the Tehachapi Mountain range rely on as “part” of their water supply.
The big difference between a Beverly Hills homeowner and a Kettleman City renter is they can afford $8 bottles of imported bottled water while relying on a municipal provider that has access to water imported from out-of-basin from the Sacramento Valley watershed, the Owens Valley, and the Colorado River to keep their estates lush. Kettleman City has only one source of water if you exclude placing pots and pans outside and crossing your fingers praying for rain. That source is the State Water Project.
The Kettleman City Community Service District that serves 1,200 people and the highway commercial businesses that provide jobs requires a minimum of 310-acre feet of water a year.
Last year they got by with only 45-acre feet being diverted from the California Aqueduct carrying water south to help wash down Disneyland’s Main Street on a nightly basis. That’s because the CSD had a carryover allotment from the previous year.
The state Department of Water Resources has a bureaucratic produced formula for emergency health and safety measures they apply in serious drought situations and apparently do so without exception in a one-size-fits-all approach.
In a nutshell that is 55 gallons per person per day. That translates into the DWR edict that Kettleman City will have to survive on 96-acre feet of water for 2022.
Keep in mind Kettleman City has no carryover in reserve and is receiving less than a third of the minimum water they need. And that minimum need doesn’t include the water hog of California in the form of residential eye candy — green lawns. You will be hard pressed to find any green lawns in Kettleman City let alone people hosing down sidewalks and patios.
Commercial businesses basically employ artificial turf.
If the edict as rendered is implemented something will have to give. Either businesses that cater to the traveling public will have to shut down, water use by residents will become as robust as those in arid areas in Third World countries, or a combination of both.
Then there are issues such as having adequate pressure to fight fires.
It is estimated the commercial users in Kettleman City that provide jobs and cater to the millions of annual travelers on the Interstate 5 corridor consume 40 percent of the community’s water supply.
Keep in mind the 96-acre feet of water for 2022 is not the worst-case scenarios. The DWR has warned zero water isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
This past week the state rejected an appeal of the original edict slashing the water supply of Kettleman City where more than 25 percent of the population is below the federal poverty line and the rest not very much above it.
One might ask where the social justice, environmental justice of whatever adjective the Gavin Newsom administration is tossing around this week in conjunction with the word “justice” to show how much they care about those struggling is in all of this?
Remember this is the San Joaquin Valley that the federal government has described repeatedly as the “New Appalachia” and the poorest region in the state that Newsom has repeatedly stressed he isn’t going to forget.
But then again it is probably just a case of out of sight, out of mind as when Newsom goes to places for dinner it isn’t an In-N-Out Burger in Kettleman City but rather at the posh French Laundry restaurant in Napa Valley.
It is clear urban contracts are different than the one Kettleman City is tied into for agricultural deliveries.
The massive Metropolitan Water District that wheels water from Los Angeles to San Diego has multiple sources of water as do many of the cities they deliver water. You’d think the DWR would look at all of their customers facing health and safety situations and act accordingly.
Of course, they will say a contract is a contract meaning it’s the law. But if you are a water district holding senior legally adjudicated water rights laws don’t matter in a statewide drought emergency as far as the state is concerned because it’s not a law that benefits Sacramento.
It would also seem there could be wiggle room in water committed to fish flows.
If it wasn’t for manmade dams, before last weekend’s storms a walk across many rivers in California would not only not have gotten shoes wet but would have left them with a nice coating of dust.
That — along with a Facebook posting of Kettleman City Elementary School students enjoying an outing to In-N-Out Burger as a reward for good citizenship — brings up a question for the governor.
What carries more weight: Helping a school of struggling students or a school of fish when it comes to how the state rations water?