As the Tejon Tribe casino makes its way through the regulatory process, concerns have been raised over the impact the complex will have on the county’s groundwater.
However, county officials believe the casino may actually use less water than the farms that currently occupy the planned site just south of Bakersfield. But questions do remain as to how much water the casino will actually need to operate.
The answers won’t be known for sure until the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs completes an Environmental Impact Statement that will be used to inform federal regulators tasked with issuing the final approval for the project.
The draft report is not expected to be finished until late this year, but the Tejon Tribe has moved forward with plans to build a Hard Rock Casino, recently securing a 20-year intergovernmental agreement with the Kern County Board of Supervisors.
In a recent meeting with supervisors, Kern County Department of Planning and Natural Resources Director Lorelei Oviatt countered the worries that the casino and its accompanying facilities would contribute to the county’s water woes.
She said the 400-room hotel, which is planned to be built next to the casino, could use 75 percent less water than the current agricultural uses.
While the hotel could use 112 to 120 acre-feet per year, she said, the 306 acres of farmland could use as much as 2,448 acre-feet of water if alfalfa was planted in the area, or 1,500 acre-feet of water if the land was used for pistachio trees.
“As you can see, if we are concerned about the use of water in that area, a Hard Rock hotel is going to use 75 percent less water,” she said.
While the water use for the hotel can be estimated, the impact of all the complete casino facility is not yet known.
In addition to a hotel and casino, the Tejon Tribe plans to build 13 restaurants, a spa and fitness facility, “the largest conference center and meeting space in Kern County,” a concert venue, RV Park and public safety facilities.
“There’s still a lot of unknowns there, but we’ve been in touch,” said Jeevan Muhar, an engineer manager for the Kern Groundwater Authority. “We’ll be looking very closely at their environmental document.”
He added the authority will need to monitor the tribe to make sure the casino does not run afoul of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, a law passed in 2014 designed to ensure sustainable groundwater use by 2042.
Water authorities are supposed to come up with long term plans for groundwater use by the end January 2020, and any increase in groundwater use could make life more difficult for the other entities that use Kern groundwater.
After years of unregulated pumping, the Kern County Sub-basin, which encompasses Bakersfield and a vast swath of land north and west of the city, is considered critically overdrafted, and plans will need to allow the ground beneath the county to be recharged.
As the county attempts to bring its groundwater usage into compliance with the state, it may have to update its plans to include the new casino.