Unlikely source promises (a little) water for the Kern River

August 7, 2020
by Lois Henry
Lois Henry

Water deal

Buena Vista Water Storage District has agreed, in principle, to bank some water in the Kern River channel in drier years between April and June, allowing the City of Bakersfield to provide residents with at least some water in the river.

The amount depends on the type of year nature provides, kicking in when the river is running between 60 percent and 110 percent of normal. Below 60 percent, Buena Vista would need all its water and when the river is above 110 percent, it will likely have water flowing regardless.

Here’s the breakdown:|
At 60% to 70% of normal, Buena Vista will bank 5,000 acre fee in the river channel.
At 70% to 80% of normal, Buena Vista will bank 7,500 acre feet in the river channel.
At 80% to 110% of normal, Buena Vista will bank 10,000 acre feet in the river channel.


River petition

A petition demanding water for the Kern River continues to gain signatures.

Jonathan Yates started the online petition several weeks ago and is focusing on the State Water Resources Control Board, which for the past decade has been reviewing how much Kern River water may be available after Kern Delta Water District lost some of its rights in a lengthy court battle, and who should get that water.

“A healthy Kern River is not mutually exclusive with local agricultural or urban water needs,” the petition states. “None of this water leaves the Kern River basin and so all river water can still be used by other interests.”

The petition is shooting for 2,500 signatures and currently has 1,780.

It can be found at: https://www.change.org/p/california-state-water-resources-control-board-bring-the-kern-river-back-to-bakersfield?redirect=false


Kern River History

The City of Bakersfield Water Resources Department put together a booklet explaining the history of the river and how the city came to own its rights.

CLICK HERE to read the booklet.

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If all goes according to plan, there will be water in the Kern River through spring in most years.

And not just when Mother Nature dumps a boatload of snow in the Sierras.

The City of Bakersfield is poised to ink a deal with Buena Vista Water Storage District that will provide at least some water in the riverbed through the main part of the city between April and June — even in drier years.
“We’ve been calling it ‘aesthetics water,’” said Tim Ashlock, General Manager of Buena Vista.

How much depends on the type of year. And it wouldn’t be very much on the drier end, he said.

“Maybe a month’s worth of water.”

Still, that’s more than the river typically gets in dry years.

Ashlock said Buena Vista is agreeing to release some of its water to the river channel in years that are between 60 percent and 110 percent of normal.

In return, the agricultural water district would get groundwater credits it can use under the new Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which mandates water basins come into balance by 2040.

Ashlock said the city would be in charge of where to put that water, but he guessed it would be placed near points that are the most accessible to the public.

City officials confirmed that “aesthetics water” is part of a larger deal being hammered out  between Buena Vista and the city in regards to operation of the McAllister Ranch water bank.

Until the deal is final, however, they declined to comment.

Water bank tug of war

The McAllister Ranch has been an ongoing bone of contention between Buena Vista and the city since the ag water district, along with Rosedale-Rio Bravo Water Storage District, bought the failed housing development out of foreclosure in 2011.

McAllister Ranch had been a 2,100-acre master planned community with 6,000 homes and its own Greg Norman-designed golf course. It lies along Panama Lane between Nord and Allen roads.

Developers got as far as stubbing in some utilities and building the golf course clubhouse before the massive real estate crash of 2007.

By 2011, the clubhouse had burned down and the entire site was in foreclosure.

Buena Vista and Rosedale-Rio Bravo bought it at auction for $22 million with plans to turn it into a water bank.

But Bakersfield sued saying that land had been annexed into the city and zoned for residential use, not water banking.

The lawsuit was stayed as the sides hashed out their issues.

The outcome is an agreement where Buena Vista will pay for future road design in the area and the promise of water for the river.

Environmental documents still have to be prepared, Ashlock said.

Once that’s complete, he said, the water deal can get under way. It will run for 30 years, with the last 10 at diminishing water amounts.

Other pots of water

That may be enough time for the city to pick up water from other sources that it could run down the river.

Those sources could include forfeited Kern River water and/or river water the city sold under long-term contracts that have been expired since 2012.

The forfeited water refers to water rights that were deemed forfeited by Kern Delta Water District in 2007 after a lengthy court battle.

How much actual water is available and who should get it are questions that have been under review by the State Water Resources Control Board for the past 10 years.

Bakersfield applied for that forfeited water and pledged to run it down the river while several ag water districts want it for farming.

The contract water refers to water Bakersfield sold under long-term contracts in order to pay off bonds it used to buy rights to the Kern River from Tenneco West in 1976. Those contracts were up in 2012.

But North Kern Water Storage District successfully sued to force the city to continue selling that water to the ag district per a section of the contract that says the city can only have it back if it has a “project” for the water.

Running it down the river was not considered a project, per the contract and the court.

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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