Kings water board cuts ties with Mid-Kings GSA, Farm Bureau calls for resignations

Directors of the Kings County Water District (KCWD) voted unanimously to sever the district’s relationship with the embattled Mid-Kings River Groundwater Sustainability Agency at a special meeting Wednesday, May 29. The change will take effect in 60 days on July 28. The departure caused an outcry from members of the agricultural community and municipal representatives.


Agency Under State Probation

The entire Tulare Lake Subbasin – comprised of the Mid-Kings River GSA, the South Fork Kings GSA, the El Rico GSA and the Tri-County Water Authority and the Southwest Kings GSA – is under probation by the State Water Resources Board (SWRB) following an April 16 hearing. The groups were given one year to correct multiple problems with their shared groundwater sustainability plan (GSP) or face direct state intervention.

Leaving the Mid-Kings River GSA is intended to distance the KCWD from the local regulatory body and its troubles with the state. Board president Barry McCutcheon said the move is intended to avoid a state takeover of groundwater distribution. However, KCWD is one of only three agencies along with Hanford and Kings County that make up the Mid-Kings River GSA.

The move to end KCWD’s cooperation in the Mid-Kings River GSA was both supported and opposed by several members of the public during an emotionally-charged comment period during the May 29 meeting before the vote.

And notably the Kings County Farm Bureau requested the resignation and replacement of the entire KCWD board. This may or may not have played a role in KCWD quitting the GSA.


‘KCWD Have Failed the Landowners’

A letter addressed to KCWD board president Barry McCutcheon – signed and read into the record by farm bureau executive director Dusty Ference – placed the blame for the impending state takeover on McCutcheon and the KCWD board.

“The Mid-Kings River GSA and KCWD have failed the landowners in their service area. The most critical breakdown was the failure to submit a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) to the [state] Department of Water Resources (DWR), which resulted in the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) placing the Tulare Lake Subbasin on probation as of April 16, 2024,” he said.

McCutcheon countered he did not believe his agency had failed.

“I don’t plan on stepping aside,” he said.

KCWD held three seats on the Mid-Kings River GSA, and Dennis Mills served as general manager for both agencies. Mills is listed on the KCWD website as a member of the agency’s board of directors, serving as secretary.

Following the May 29 special meeting, the KCWD’s regular monthly meeting, scheduled for Thursday, June 6, was canceled.


More Complaints Beyond Missing GSA

The letter, Ference said, was signed by more than 200 members of the Kings County Farm Bureau, and it contained a list of other serious complaints about the management and operation of the Mid-Kings River GSA. Chief among them was, under Mills’ and KCWD directors management, the Mid-Kings River GSA put a plan before voters to increase pumping fees to $95 per acre-foot, as well as imposing a $25 per acre assessment.

Unveiled during a hearing held in April, the proposal was voted down by landowners and water users in attendance. Ference said a lack of effective public outreach by GSA management was to blame.

The proposal also called for an $11.5 million budget for the Mid-Kings River GSA, and that brought special ire from the Farm Bureau.

“Proposing a budget of $11.5 million dollars paid by landowners and water users in the district is inconceivable and unjustifiable. Agriculture is Kings County’s sole economic driver,” Ference said at the May 29 meeting, reading from the letter demanding the resignation of the KCWD directors. “ Limiting access to groundwater and charging exorbitant fees for the water that is consumed is the single largest threat the community of Kings County has experienced since the adoption of SGMA (Sustainable Groundwater Management Act).”


No Challenge to Probation Decision

SGMA, enacted in 2014, requires each GSA to submit a conservation plan that meets the state standards. Failure by the Mid-Kings River GSA to do so led directly to the year-long probation imposed by the SWRCB. The Mid-Kings River GSA never challenged that decision, one Ference called “fraught with errors and unlawful expansion of the state authority.”

Earlier in the evening, among the many members of the public who attended the meeting in person and by telephone, were other angry and sometimes rambling complaints of government interference. One speaker, who did not identify himself, even spread the blame to the federal government, which has no say or influence in state control of groundwater.

Ference also accused the management of the Mid-Kings River GSA of operating outside the limits of the joint powers authority (JPA) agreement that lays out binding rules for how it must operate.

“The MKRGSA violated that JPA multiple times, including but not limited to not appointing alternate directors, failing to create a stakeholder advisory committee, not appointing a member of the stakeholder advisory committee to the Board of Directors, and violating the two-thirds requirement for specific votes as described in Section 3.05 of the JPA,” Ference said.


State Takeover Looms for Mid-Kings River GSA

Mark Kairis, who holds a seat on the Mid-Kings River GSA as Lemoore’s representative, expressed the greatest fear of those who wanted the KCWD to stand pat.

“If we go backwards, the state’s going to come in and take control,” he said. “I understand a lot of emotion is involved. I’m not a grower, I’m not a farmer, but I do represent 60,000 residents who use water every day.”

While Lemoore is not an agency member of the Mid-Kings River GSA, Kings County as a whole is. With the KCWD pulling out, the only remaining member agencies are the county and the city of Hanford. Yet, the area covered by the KCWD remains within the Tulare Lake Subbasin and will be bound by the state’s control of it.

Explaining why he supported leaving the GSA, KCWD president McCutcheon said he – and apparently the other directors who voted their unanimous support – thinks cutting ties will mean the state will leave them to conduct business as they have in the past.

However, now that the Mid-Kings River GSA is in probation, the consequences of that will begin soon. Anyone drawing water in the Tulare Lake Subbasin must start tracking and reporting their usage, and those who draw more than 500 acre-feet will have to install a state-approved meter. The change kicks in on July 15.

Then in December, water users in the basin will have to file a year-end report on their water usage with the state. Previously, those reports were due in February. An extraction fee will be imposed, though exemptions are available. While water users are already required to make these reports to their GSA, those under probation will have to file twice, once with their GSA and again with the state.

Meanwhile, the Mid-Kings River GSA still has to come up with a workable groundwater plan by the end of its probation period in April 2025. To cover the state’s costs while it manages the Mid-Kings River GSA, users must pay a $300-per-well fee, along with $20 per acre-foot drawn.


Two Other Water Agencies Ditch their GSAs

While delivering his remarks during the May 29 meeting, McCutcheon said he believes the Mid-Kings River GSA is just the first domino that will fall under the state’s new requirements.

It appears two Tulare County water agencies believe that’s so. On Monday, the Tea Pot Dome Water District in Porterville and the Vandalia Water District in Tipton both voted to leave the Eastern Tule GSA.

The Eastern Tule GSA is also facing state probation and the same restrictions coming into play soon in the Tulare Lake Subbasin. The hearing to determine if probation is appropriate will be held at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, September 17. The in-person hearing will be held in the Coastal Hearing Room of the Joe Serna Jr.– CalEPA Headquarters Building, 1001 I Street, in Sacramento. Information on online participation in the hearing is available at

The Eastern Tule GSA is already facing fallout for alleged overdrafting of groundwater. In February, the agency was sued by the Friant Water Authority and the Arvin-Edison Water Storage District. Those agencies claim irresponsible pumping in the Eastern Tule GSA has caused 9 feet of sinking along the Friant-Kern Canal – Eastern Tule GSA has agreed to pay $200 million to pay for repairs – and their groundwater plan will cause 3 additional feet of subsidence.

The Friant Water Authority is currently building a bypass canal to replace the sunken portions that no longer carry sufficient water for its users.

2 thoughts on “Kings water board cuts ties with Mid-Kings GSA, Farm Bureau calls for resignations

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  1. This is a very complex article that isn’t easy to fully understand since I have little to next to no knowledge of the who, what, and where aspects of these water boards. I wish someone would break it all down a simpler read. I realize that Ag is the primary user of the Tulare Basin, but non-Ag citizens and businesses also use it as well. So, what will the impact be not just for Ag but on all non-Ag users in regard to higher pumping fees and increased assessment fees. And what are all water users to expect IF the State takes over?

  2. This is not a new problem, ongoing since SGMA was established. You have two major growers illegally exporting water for profit out of Kings County. Why do you think Corcoran is sinking? The County hired a Water Resources Manager and conveniently was layed off during Covid but really because they were asking hard questions and attempting to avoid what is happening now. Of course, for political purposes because the BOS is their pawn. So you get what you sow.. in Ag terms

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