Kern River outflow from Lake Isabella is ramping up but, no, it is not a “flood release”

March 14, 2023
by Lois Henry
Kern River flows as measured at First Point, just east of Hart Park. The influx of water is mostly from runoff below Isabella Dam rather than lake releases. Those will start ramping up this month. California Data Exchange Center
Lois Henry

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Outflow from Lake Isabella into the Kern River increased on Tuesday but only because downriver users requested the water, according to Kern River Watermaster Mark Mulkay.

Outflow went from about 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) Monday to 1,013 cfs by 9 a.m. Tuesday, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hourly reservoir reports page.

The lake is currently at 266,619 acre feet and can hold about 560,000 acre feet so it has more room to fill, Mulkay said. The plan still is to fill the lake as high as possible this year, but to do it safely, he added.

What’s happening now is that downstream users are working to get their recharge basins ready to take more water.

“This is water users increasing demand and starting to fill things up,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll never get to the flood release stage.”

By the end of the month, he anticipated outflow would be at 3,000 cfs and would remain there for potentially months.

The river is flowing at about 1,500 cfs through town currently. That water has mostly come from tributaries and runoff below Isabella Dam and is filled with debris and silt.

“It’s pretty yucky water,” Mulkay said, noting that a lot of the gunk coming down is from wildfire scarred areas. “Once that first flush is done and we’re taking outflows from upper elevations it’ll be much cleaner.”

Brown, turbid water didn’t stop some folks from enjoying the now full Kern River channel.

Matt Mayry shared photos and a video on SJV Water’s instagram of him kayaking from the Panama Vista Preserve all the way to Coffee Road.

Matt Mayry

“It felt really cool!” he posted. “Like I was in a tourist town kayaking to my house. Very fun!” It should be noted that Mayry was equipped with a helmet and life vest.

There could be a full river through town for months.

Mulkay said the existing snow pack, with more on the way,  is reminiscent of two of California’s biggest recorded water years, 1969 and 1983.

“In 1983, I think we had flood releases for 15 months out of the reservoir,” Mulkay said.

Water actually went over the spillway at Isabella Dam for about two weeks in July of 1969 and for a month in June and July of 1983.  The lake hit its highest storage ever on July 5, 1983 when it held 630,705 acre feet.

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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