Contamination a looming possibility for groundwater bank to be built using public funds

February 24, 2022
by Lois Henry
The proposed Kern Fan Groundwater Storage Project in Kern County won $87 million of Proposition 1 funding and may face TCP contamination. SOURCE: California Water Commission
Lois Henry

Full disclosure

This story was written by Lois Henry, CEO/Editor of SJV Water.

Henry is also the president of Brock Mutual Water Company, which has TCP in its wells above the maximum level allowed by California.

In 2016, Brock hired Attorney Todd Robins who sued Dow Chemical and Shell Oil on Brock’s behalf for TCP contamination.

A settlement was reached in 2019.

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A proposed Kern County groundwater bank that would be partially funded with $87 million in Proposition 1 money for new water storage, may have to deal with contamination before it spreads its first drop.

The Kern Fan Groundwater Storage Project has not found contamination yet, but is sandwiched between areas that have confirmed 1,2,3-trichloropropane (TCP), a carcinogen allegedly leftover from a fumigant made by Dow Chemical and Shell Oil.

The possibility of TCP contamination is “being considered as we’re going through the design process,” said Trent Taylor, water resources manager for Rosedale-Rio Bravo Water Storage District which is partnering with Irvine Ranch Water Distict on the project.

“It is a significant investment and if TCP is discovered we will hold the responsible parties accountable,” Taylor said.

Semitropic Water Storage District to the northwest of Kern Fan and Rosedale-Rio Bravo to the east of Kern Fan have both had wells with TCP contamination.

In fact, Rosedale-Rio Bravo and Irvine Ranch area already suing Dow and Shell over TCP contamination of existing groundwater banking operations. A Dow spokesman disputed whether the contamination is from the company’s product. Shell did not respond to a request for comment.

Aside from the looming possibility of TCP contamination, the Kern Fan Groundwater project is also facing two lawsuits over its environmental impact report,  approved about a year ago.

The City of Bakersfield and the Kern County Water Agency filed separate complaints seeking to have the EIR deemed inadequate, as SJV Water reported last year.  The city alleges the project is a thinly veiled attempt to sell Kern River water to southern California and the Kern County Water Agency alleges the project will reduce State Water Project supplies that might otherwise be available to its other member water districts.

Kern Fan’s basics are that Rosedale-Rio Bravo and Irvine will recharge up to 100,000 acre feet of water on 1,300 acres north of Stockdale Highway and west of Highway 43.

That water will be purchased by Irvine and banked in Kern Fan with half remaining in Kern. Rosedale would also bank surplus water in wet years from a variety of sources, including the Kern River. The banked water could then be withdrawn and delivered elsewhere, such as Irvine.

The project would also store up to 25,000 acre feet in an “ecosystem account,” that could be used by the Department of Water Resources to aid fish species in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. DWR would deposit water into the ecosystem account in flush years then “withdraw” the water in dry times by keeping that amount in the delta for fish.

The ecosystem account was a major factor in helping the $196-million Kern Fan project secure more than $67 million in public funding from Proposition 1, which was passed by voters in 2014. The project received an additional $20 million when another valley storage proposal, Temperance Flat Reservoir, was withdrawn and the Prop. 1 money allotted to that project was divvied up among the other projects.

Taylor said Kern Fan has been hitting all its required milestones to receive the Proposition 1 funding, including approval by the California Water Commission of its feasibility report this past December.

“The pandemic has slowed the schedule a bit but we are working with DWR on and others on various agreements including (California Aqueduct) turnout, exchange and public benefit agreements,” he said. “So far, no hiccups.”

SJV Water is an independent, nonprofit news site dedicated to covering water in the San Joaquin Valley. Get inside access to SJV Water by becoming a member.

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