A Kern County Grand Jury has given a water district on the eastern edge of the county 120 days to correct severe inadequacies in its business practices or it will be placed in receivership through the State Water Resources Control Board.
From leaks, to handshake deals, to members of the Board of Directors displaying a “lack of knowledge” of the responsibilities of their positions, the Grand Jury found a litany of problems with the Rand Communities Water District, which oversees water services for Randsburg, Johannesburg and Red Mountain, three former mining towns south of Ridgecrest that still attract occasional hikers and gold miners.
The three towns have a combined population of less than 400 according to the 2010 census, and are listed as ghost towns on some websites.
Although the district won the “Best Tasting Water in California” award in 2017 from the California Rural Water Association, it has fallen on hard times.
Multiple members of the community alleged to the grand jury that the water district engaged in cronyism, nepotism and inept business practices. The allegations initiated the grand jury’s investigation.
Members of the grand jury visited Randsburg on three separate occasions to interview residents, business owners, board members and employees of the water district among others.
The grand jury’s findings did not paint a pretty picture of the water district.
Of 13 miles of pipeline surveyed, leaks due to poor maintenance and aging resulted in 43 percent water loss equating to $24,224 in lost revenue, the report said.
The report stated that levels of arsenic in the water occasionally rose above state requirements.
Long-term exposure to arsenic in drinking water can cause cancer and skin lesions according to the World Health Organization.
A state grant of $3.2 million has been available for four years for the water district to modernize its system and fix the arsenic problem, but board members were unaware of the grant’s existence.
The state water board has been holding the money for use in the Rand Communities, the report said, waiting to be contacted by a member of the water district.
“Board members displayed a lack of knowledge about RCWD operations and the financial requirements necessary to conduct business on a day to day basis,” the report said.
One board member went so far as to “proudly” inform the grand jury, “I don’t have a meter and never receive a water bill because I take water from friends and neighbors.”
Board members also granted performance bonuses, arbitrary salary increases and offered benefit packages to employees without reviewing financial records, the report said.
Numerous other instances of improper business practices were noted in the report.
If the water district is placed in receivership, the State Water Resources Control Board could take control and force the district to make changes.
A representative of the water district said the Board of Directors would discuss the report at a meeting next week.