It’s way past time for the City of Bakersfield to call for some kind of mandatory water conservation measures.

Even a small effort would be better than the city's current head-in-the-sand stance.

Especially considering the council is poised to approve spending up to $385,000 for a water supply from the Kern County Water Agency at its meeting tonight.

Wait ... what?

That’s right, nearly $400k to secure a “contingency” water supply despite the fact that the city’s position has always been that it has plenty of water.

Soooooo, why the big bucks for a water supply from another agency?

The answer is typically complicated (see sidebar). It is water, after all.

But the bottom line is that city water managers are scrambling to find ways to shore up supplies in order to meet demand.  That’s not an insignificant tidbit and the City Council needs to pay attention. The contract being proposed tonight is a prudent move by the Water Resources Department in response to realities on the ground — we are bone dry.

But it’s not enough.

Council members need to start the ball rolling — now — for a water conservation ordinance. Giving residents water-wise tips and asking them, please, to conserve isn’t cutting it.

In fact, Cal Water customers (about 50 percent of Bakersfield water customers) are using more water per capita this year than last, according to Rudy Valles, district manager for the Bakersfield office.

“I’m probably committing a sin by bringing it up, but we need to start talking about an ordinance,” Valles told me.

An ordinance can be as simple or draconian as council members like. But until the city gets serious about water, residents don’t think they have to worry.

And they do.

We have nearly zero surface water this year. The State Water Project is only delivering 5 percent of its promised allocations. And the Kern River is down to 19 percent of its average flow, making it one of the driest years for the river in recorded history. That means everyone is pulling on the aquifer and groundwater levels are dropping fast.

Cal Water has had to lower the pumps in 11 wells so far and has seven more to do. The city is lowering pumps in six to 10 of its wells, according to Water Resources Manager Art Chianello.

If the water table drops drastically this summer Chianello said the city could institute emergency measures, but that would be a policy decision for council members and the City Manager.

We should not wait for this emergency to come to us.

Since the city has never done any rationing or mandatory conservation, it likely doesn’t have the resources to enforce emergency restrictions. It would take a massive media campaign and personnel to respond to complaints and enforce fines or water shut-offs.

You can’t go from 0 to 60 in a day, or even a week, on something as complicated as changing people’s water habits. Council members need to get to work on this now.

This is an actual real issue. (As opposed to panhandlers who are apparently upsetting the bourgeoisie with their insufferable poverty and pesky constitutional right to freedom of speech ... but I digress.)

I will say, however, that this epically dry year is an argument in favor of the city’s plan to run water down the Kern River bed that it had been selling to ag water districts.

Had we been doing so regularly, instead of just when there was a dribble to spare, our aquifer could easily withstand a few drought years without sending water managers scrambling to keep taps flowing.

But that’s a story for another day.

Contact Californian columnist Lois Henry at 395-7373 or lhenry@bakersfield.com. Her column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays; the views expressed are her own.