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Steven Mayer/ The Californian

Paradise Lakes, a private ski community southeast of Bakersfield, pumps groundwater to sustain its two ski lakes.

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Steven Mayer/ The Californian

Homes line the shores at Paradise Lakes, a private water ski community that also boasts an air strip for residents.

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Steven Mayer/ The Californian

Ski West Village, a private community located adjacent to Paradise Lakes Estates, includes three lakes used by water ski enthusiasts.

Q: What are the bodies of water, about five miles or so southeast of Bakersfield? They look like a water-skiing club of some sort.

-- Angelo Esquibel

A few miles south of Lamont, near Wheeler Ridge and Millux roads, several long, narrow lakes filled with precious groundwater line up side-by-side in neat parallel rows. Some are more than a half-mile long and hundreds of feet wide.

There are similar lakes farther to the east, near Arvin's Sycamore Canyon Golf Course, and more still, scattered across Kern County. There are easily more than a dozen of these man-made lakes in Kern, possibly many more than that.

There's Paradise Lakes Estates, Ski West Village, Adobe Lakes, Banana Lakes, Seventh Heaven and many other private lakeside communities locked behind entry-restricting metal gates. These are the playgrounds of water ski and boating enthusiasts, many of whom live in Southern California.

There's no doubt that having and enjoying one's own private ski lake is a wonderful luxury.

Some of the lakeside communities even boast private airstrips, making it convenient for those who own or lease private planes to fly directly from Los Angeles or other points-south to one of the custom homes built along the water.

Paradise Lakes has been the site of several national and regional water skiing competitions.

The image of these lakes, which are restricted to the private use of a very few, collides violently with another image, a sympathetic portrait of farmers and politicians from the southern San Joaquin Valley sharing disturbing stories of almond groves being bulldozed and farmland being fallowed because state and federal officials have halted water transfers from the north due to historic drought conditions.

It's a dichotomy one resident didn't really want to talk about.

Bakersfield businessman Kent Tackett lives at Paradise Lakes, which boasts two parallel bodies of water, each more than a half-mile long and connected by a channel. About 20 homes have been built against the lakeshores.

Each development has its own well system, Tackett said. So they pump as much water as they need. Unfortunately the groundwater table is sinking.

"We had to lower our pumps 70 feet to get some decent water," he said.

According to water managers, pumping groundwater in one location can lower the water table, not only of that property but of surrounding properties.

Tackett did not welcome the attention from The Californian, noting that the gated communities do not need any "looky-loos" or more people knowing the secluded neighborhoods are there, hidden amid the table grape vineyards and row crops.

And he bristled at questions about whether such water use is appropriate and water-wise, especially in a region that suffers cyclical droughts and imports water from other regions.

"I don't need anybody telling me I can't pump water," Tackett said. "If someone tries to tell us how much water we can pump, we are going to be pretty upset."

Despite Tackett's assurances to the contrary, Darron Mason, an agent with Karpe Real Estate, said there are currently two lots in the development that are on the market, each ranging between $500,000 and $600,000.

Harry Starkey, general manager of West Kern Water District, said he's become aware of other ski lakes in the county. Like golf courses developed in arid landscapes, he said, questions about such extensive use of a finite resource like water tend to become more pointed during extended droughts.

And that's appropriate, he added.

"This is an important dialog. It's important that people look closely at how we use this precious resource."

-- Staff writer Steven Mayer

Ask TBC appears on Mondays. Submit questions to asktbc@bakersfield.com or to The Bakersfield Californian, c/o Christine Bedell, P.O. Bin 440, Bakersfield, CA 93302.