BY LOIS HENRY Californian columnist lhenry@bakersfield.com

Sure, Oildale has a reputation as a rough and tumble place. Brawling is kind of expected.

But a water fight? In Oildale?

Oh yes, and it’s gettin’ ugly.

The two main water districts up there are engaged in a bitter legal feud that will likely end up costing both entities hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars.

Who do you think will ultimately bear that cost? Anyone with a faucet who lives in the ’08, that’s who.

And no matter who wins this most recent lawsuit, filed last November, the same problems will still exist, all the same complaints will eventually resurface and history will repeat itself over and over.

That’s because North of the River Municipal Water District and Oildale Mutual Water Company are trapped in a seriously dysfunctional relationship.

Oildale residents really need to get involved and demand a change in how the district and company do business. They’re the ones on the hook, after all.

And I’m not just talking about the constant legal wrangling.

The North of the River district, a public entity with elected board members who are answerable to the public (hint, hint), needs to be watched — closely.

One small peak under the floorboards was enough to make me do a double take.

Continue reading

The Annual Meeting of the Stockholders of Oildale Mutual Water Company (OMWC) was held on October 1st and highlighted strong customer support for their representatives on the privately-held company’s board.

Don Wattenbarger, Fred Hupp, Lonny Boller, Bill Purkiser, and Hugh Pearson were each re-elected by 228,422 shares, representing the customers of this nearly 100-year old company.

“We are grateful for such strong community support,” declared board president Don Wattenbarger. “All of us serving on this board are here for the people of Oildale. We are driven by a simple desire: to run a fiscally solvent company providing a critically needed water supply and protecting our customers from the abuses of government.”

Oildale Mutual has been locked in a dispute with their water wholesaler, North of the River Municipal Water District. OMWC has objected to excessive travel, personal expenditures like home alarm systems, and grossly high salaries, plus $60,000 in cash bonuses paid to one employee—being passed along to their customers by this public agency.

“While we appreciate the trust that the citizens of Oildale have shown in us,” continued Wattenbarger, “we need your help to put a stop to the excessive charges being passed along to our customers. This November’s election represents a unique opportunity for the voters to speak up and say “enough” to the NOR Municipal Water District—and elect fiscally responsible individuals to replace them.”

Oildale Mutual Water Company was founded by the residents of Oildale, California in 1919 to develop a provisioned water system to meet the demands of the growing community.

The Company is supporting the committee to elect Jim Tyack, Dennis Meier, and Ray Etcheverry to the NOR Municipal Board of Directors in the November 6th general election.

By The Bakersfield Californian

What on earth is a Bakersfield city councilman doing in the middle of a water fight in Oildale? And I mean smack in the middle.

Russell Johnson, who represents Ward 7 waaaaaay to the south of Oildale, has been raking in between $1,500 and $2,000 a month doing “PR” for North of the River Municipal Water District.

That’s one problem but it’s not all.

Johnson, whose company is called Common Sense Consulting, also was one of the key players in a mailer that came out in mid-October that I believe skirts the edge of a public agency trying to influence an election. But we’ll come back to that.

First, $2,000 a month is a lot of scratch for a tiny public agency with only six employees that’s already been dinged for excessive spending to toss around on public relations. Johnson justified his pay saying he helps with NOR’s online newsletter (five so far this year) and had helped coordinate three water awareness outreach events.

Good work if you can get it, I suppose.

Second, and more importantly, Johnson represents the City of Bakersfield and sits on its Water Resources Board. His work for NOR could present a conflict of interest. (It wasn’t long ago that Bakersfield and NOR nearly came to legal blows when NOR was poised to be the middleman in a deal to get the City of Shafter more water.)

Continue reading

By Carol Ferguson, Eyewitness News

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — Neighbors in a northwest Bakersfield area ended up with no water over the weekend, but a nearby water company is coming to the rescue. The Seventh Standard Mutual Water Co. serves 22 homes, and their system went down. But, Oildale Mutual Water Co. hooked up some emergency supplies first thing Monday.

“We’re just providing a water meter right there for our connection to a fire hydrant,” Oildale General Manager Doug Nunneley told Eyewitness News. “Seventh Standard will be running a line probably about a mile.” That’ll get the water to 22 homes in the neighborhood.

Continue reading

By LOIS HENRY, Californian columnist lhenry@bakersfield.com

I was absolutely floored by two recent Kern County grand jury reports. Not because the content was shocking or illuminating in any way. What floored me was how utterly lame they were. One report was so bad, that it may be legally actionable, in my view.

First, was a report issued May 15 on the death of logger Bill Bennett in Tehachapi back in 2011.

Second, and even worse was a report issued June 17 delving into the decades long water fight between North of the River Municipal Water District, known as NOR, and Oildale Mutual Water Company.

Both reports contain misleading information, outright errors and are one-sided in the extreme. But the Oildale water report may actually have crossed the line into libel.

The new grand jury, seated last month, needs to revoke the reports and either redo them properly or just can ’em entirely.

Leaving them out for public review, frankly, besmirches the credibility of the institution.

I called the grand jury to discuss the reports, but it is out until July 19. Wouldn’t matter anyway. Jurors can’t legally discuss how investigations were conducted and why certain information was put into or left out of a report.

Continue reading

Water patrol raising awareness about wasting water in Kern County

Oildale Mutual Water Company has had a water patrol program for decades and uses it as another tool to cut down on water use.

“I get to go all around Oildale. I usually cover the whole area during time I work,” said Kristina Meier.

The water patrol employees aren’t like police officers. The goal isn’t to enforce the rules, but instead to raise awareness about saving water.

“If I see some water running into the street then I just go by and make people aware that their hose is running because sometimes people forget,” explained Meier.

Doug Nunneley, General Manager for the Oildale Mutual Water Company, told 23ABC in the past the company has hired anyone from college students to teachers and even retired California Highway Patrol officers.

“We usually try to get someone that is a people person,” said Nunneley.

Meier is working to pay for college and also make a difference by helping others save water.

“That’s what we’re out there for is to raise awareness that people need to conserve,” said Meier.

“Water is precious and they should use what they need, but not anymore than they need,” said Nunneley.

Nunneley told 23ABC 70 percent of the water usage is from people watering their lawns. Nunneley also said the best time to water is after midnight before the sun rises.

Read full story…

Just when I thought the whole Oildale water fight was quietly gliding into history, BAM!

No way. The war between Oildale Mutual Water Company and North of the River Municipal Water District (NOR) is hotter than ever.

Now I find out there are allegations of theft and death threats that have been taken so seriously the Oildale Mutual offices have been on “lock down” since mid-May and NOR has security guards hovering over its public meetings.

Not to mention last-minute attempts to boost benefits just weeks before NOR employees are set to be laid off.

You gotta love the ‘dale.

OK, so some background first.

Oildale Mutual is a private, nonprofit company founded in 1919. By the 1960s, it was clear the growing population couldn’t rely on groundwater alone.

In 1969, NOR was formed as a public agency to act as a pass-through, wholesaling state water to Oildale Mutual and another water company, Highland Knolls. After NOR took over Highland Knolls in 1981 things went sour.

Oildale Mutual accused NOR of using wholesale money to fund its retail side and sued, later settling. It sued again in 2011 accusing NOR of ignoring the settlement from the first lawsuit.

Read full story…