Kern River to get a new Watermaster, but one with a familiar name

August 24, 2023
by Lois Henry
Art Chianello will serve as the new Kern River Watermaster starting Oct. 1, 2023. Lois Henry / SJV Water
Lois Henry

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Art Chianello will step in as the new Kern River Watermaster at the start of the new water year, which is Oct. 1.

Chianello, who retired as head of the  City of Bakersfield’s Water Resources Department in Sept. 2022, is extremely famliar with the inner workings of the Kern River as a large chunk is owned by the city.

In his new role, he will review river records as kept by the city and work as the liaison between the Army Corps of Engineers, which owns and operates Lake Isabella, and the Kern River “interests,” those entities with water rights on the river. Kern River interests include, Bakersfield, the Kern County Water Agency, Kern Delta Water District and the Buena Vista and North Kern water storage Districts.

It’s a diverse group with often competing interests.

But Chianello said he’s looking forward to the job and the challenge of being Watermaster.

“It’s certainly one of the best titles I’ve had in my career,” he said “I’m very proud to have been chosen by the Kern River interests and plan on serving as Watermaster with accuracy and lot of hard work.”

Chianello follows Mark Mulkay, who served as Watermaster during two of the most extreme years on the notoriously mercurial Kern River.

Mark Mulkay, April 2022. Lois Henry / SJV Water

In 2022, the river ran at just 15% of normal during one of California’s worst drought years on record. Then an epic 2023 boosted runoff in the river to nearly 400% of normal.

“I’ve really enjoyed working with everyone on the Kern River these last two years,” Mulkay said.

He acknowledged this past high-water year included answering questions and meeting with numerous stake holders far more than usual and often after hours and on weekends.

Daniel Maldonado, Assistant Water Resources Manager for Bakersfield, praised Mulkay’s leadership these past two years and said Chianello’s wealth of knowledge about the river made him a stand-out choice to follow Mulkay.

That sentiment was echoed by Dave Hampton, General Manager of the North Kern Water Storage District, and Marty Milobar, on the board of directors of the Kern County Water Agency, which voted Thursday to approve Chianello as Watermaster.

Mulkay came to California from his native Idaho in 1983 after receiving a degree in agricultural engineering from Utah State University. He started work for the J.G. Boswell Farming Company in Kings County during California’s wettest year when floodwater inundated the old Tulare Lake bed.

“So, floods capped both ends of my career,” he said.

Chianello started with Bakersfield in 2002 as an engineer in Public Works. He moved to the Wastewater Division from 2004-2010 and became head of Water Resources from 2010-2022. He has a degree in mechanical engineering from California State University, Fullerton, a master’s in civil engineering from Cal State Los Angeles and holds licenses as both a mechanical and civil engineer.

Chianello will be the Kern River’s fifth Watermaster.

Bill Balch served from 1955 to 1976, followed by Chuck Williams, 1976-2014, Dana Munn 2014-2022 and Mark Mulkay, 2022-2023.

The Watermaster is considered part time, about 20 hours a month. Pay is $2,750 a month and is paid jointly by all the Kern River interests.

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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