MEETING NOTES: Wheeler Ridge-Maricopa Water Storage District directors frustrated by state’s “miscalculation” of carry over water

November 15, 2023
Sonia Lemus, freelance for SJV Water
by Sonia Lemus, freelance for SJV Water
CVP: Central Valley Project. CVC: Cross Valley Canal. KCWA SWP: Kern County Water Agency, State Water Project.
Sonia Lemus, freelance for SJV Water
Sonia Lemus, freelance for SJV Water

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* “Meeting Notes” is a new feature focused on Kern County water districts, paid for by a grant from the James B. McClatchy Foundation. Please consider supporting SJV Water so we can continue this important coverage.

Meeting: Wheeler Ridge-Maricopa Water Storage District board of directors.

Date: Nov. 8, 2023

Agenda and board packet: CLICK HERE

Major topic: Carry over in San Luis Reservoir (discussion only)

Background: Districts that contract for State Water Project water are only allowed to hold a certain amount of water in San Luis Reservoir each winter by the Department of Water Resources, which operates the state project. Water that’s allowed to remain in San Luis through winter is known as “carry over” water.

Determining how much each contractor can carry over is a complicated calculation.  DWR must keep enough room in the lake for anticipated winter precipitation as well as provide enough freshwater flow through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to maintain water quality.

It’s also complicated for water districts that want to keep enough carry over water in San Luis to hedge against a dry season but not so much that they run the risk of having their water “spill.”

“Spill” can happen if there’s too much carry over water in the lake, and it’s a wet winter. In that case, DWR stops pumping from the delta, instead allowing those flows to run out the San Francisco Bay. That water is then lost to contracting districts.

District discussion: Wheeler-Ridge directors were upset that information from DWR earlier in the year caused them to evacuate large amounts of San Luis water they believe may not have needed to be moved.

Initial DWR projections showed it was very likely Wheeler Ridge would spill some of its San Luis water, General Manager Sheridan Nicholas told the board. But recent projections “have changed drastically,” he said.

He said the state overestimated the amount of freshwater expected to come into the delta from numerous sources and a valve allowing releases from Lake Oroville into the delta has been broken. In order to keep enough fresh flows running through the delta, the state simply stopped pumping into San Luis for several months.

At the same time, because Wheeler Ridge thought it might spill, the district had been furiously draining its San Luis supplies and recharging that water into the Kern Water Bank and through several landowner programs.

“But let me tell you something even worse,” Nicholas said. Because the state stopped pumping for several months, it potentially has to make up those deliveries to contractors in the next contract year.

“That can have an effect if we get into a dry situation where we’re losing our 2024 allocation because the state is still pumping its 2023 allocation,” Nicholas said. 

“It’s very, very frustrating because decisions are being made on this information that costs millions of dollars and affects all of us. We’re still trying to deal with the aftershock of it.”

The board agreed to keep recharging water into the Kern Water Bank and directed staff to look at the possibility of buying low cost water to bulk up its carryover supplies in San Luis.

Other action: The board unanimously approved a resolution supporting the Kern Water Bank Authority forming its own Groundwater Sustainability Agency.

How to attend: Wheeler Ridge meets at 8 a.m. on the 2nd Wednesday of each month at its office, 12109 Hwy 166, or online at 

Sonia Lemus, freelance for SJV Water

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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