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TCCWD responds to Grand Jury Report

At their regular board meeting on Aug. 16, the Tehachapi-Cummings County Water District moved to file their official response to the Kern County Grand Jury report released about them on June 1. The board presented their draft and voted it in unanimously with little discussion.

The City of Tehachapi and Golden Hills filed their joint response to that same report at the beginning of this month, doubling down on their criticism of TCCWD’s operating practices. The joint entities believe TCCWD board members are using their position on the board to further their own personal land use agendas and are unfairly favoring agricultural businesses over residential.

A particular point of contention in the report was surrounding the ad hoc committee created by TCCWD to allocate water in times of drought, including the annually-variable state water allotment from the State Water Project (SWP). Ad hoc committees are not subject to The Brown Act, meaning that they can operate mostly behind closed doors. The supposedly temporary committee, consisting entirely of board members and staff, has been ongoing for several years with TCCWD refusing to officiate it into a standing committee that would allow for easier and more transparent conversation between the water district and its customers.

TCCWD maintained in their response on Aug. 16 that they have been operating both legally and with the appropriate amount of input from the public. They state that no decisions regarding water shortage ordinances or SWP water allocations have been made in closed session, and provided a table of meetings over the years showing “open and robust opportunities for public comments.” The table shows regular attendance of meetings by the City and Golden Hills.

Despite the City and Golden Hills accounting for over 30% of TCCWD’s tax revenue in 2022, they have received and continue to receive only a small portion of the SWP water requested. The now 3-year delinquent 2020 Regional Urban Water Management Plan suggests a 4% allocation of SWP water to the City and Golden Hills, and 66% to agriculture. Agriculture accounted for only 1% of TCCWD’s tax revenue in 2022. While TCCWD did not dispute this data, they repeatedly stated that rationing water is only done in times of drought to keep current customers and demands sated, and said the water district is only doing their job of making sure all of their customers get by in times of drought.

The Kern County Grand Jury suggests in their report that TCCWD makes their drought-rationing ad hoc committee into a standing one, but TCCWD disagrees with the conclusion on the basis of the extra cost and time it would take to run a standing committee. Both TCCWD and the City/Golden Hills have been discussing a lawsuit in closed-session board meetings: Tehachapi-Cummings County Water District v. City of Tehachapi, et. al.