Will we get the water?
That’s the question everyone’s been asking. (And by everyone, I mean the other five or six people I know who are as weirdly interested in water as I am.)
Storms are dumping, rivers are rising and lakes are filling — finally.
Will we be able to squirrel that water away for the next dry spell?
Or will California flush it out to sea?
Yes and yes.
The state Department of Water Resources (DWR) and federal Bureau of Reclamation are planning to move as much water as possible into storage, said Kern County Water Agency General Manager Curtis Creel.
There are concerns about the endangered delta smelt fish that must also be addressed, so DWR and the Bureau are coordinating with their counterparts in the U.S. and state departments of Fish and Wildlife.
But there’s so much water pouring into the state right now, with more coming, that Creel wasn’t too worried about the smelt’s share.
“At some point, even with the ESA (Endangered Species Act) in place, there will be more water in the system than we can physically take,” he said.
Locally, water folks are already sucking up as much as they can.
Some of that is “extra” water from this season’s storms, some of it isn’t.
For instance, local water agencies are getting a big slug of water out of Millerton Lake east of Fresno, which has been dumping water for the past week and a half for flood control.
That water comes down the Friant-Kern Canal (that’s the one behind Lowe's on Rosedale Highway) and goes to Central Valley Project (CVP) contractors in Kern.
When the CVP (which is federal) is in flood control mode, that means contractors take as much water as they can.
Which is exactly what they’re doing through a network of banking and recharge agreements with other entities.
Which is why you now see a “river” in the Kern River bed from Coffee Road to a bit west of the Stockdale Highway bridge.
That’s not Kern River water.
It’s actually San Joaquin River water coming out of Millerton headed to groundwater recharge ponds on behalf of a number of local water agencies.
Meanwhile, the California Aqueduct on the west side of the valley (part of the State Water Project) is bringing what’s known as “carryover” water out of San Luis Reservoir that local districts are socking away in the Kern Water Bank and Semitropic Water Storage District water bank.
Carryover water is water that districts bought the previous year and are allowed to store in San Luis until needed the next year.
With water being pumped out of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta fast and furious, no local agencies want to lose their carryover water if San Luis gets too full.
“We are scrambling to recharge all the water we can,” said Jonathan Parker, general manager of the Kern Water Bank Authority.
Generally speaking, the Kern Water Bank can recharge up to 60,000 acre feet a month. That pace slows as the bank fills.
Which is why water folks are watching weather conditions closely, ready to throttle back if needed.
Because everyone also has eyes on the Kern River and Isabella Lake.
“If the Kern has mandatory releases, I would expect all our (groundwater banking) participants would take any of that water offered,” Parker said.
Under a mandatory release situation, when the Army Corps of Engineers dumps water out of Isabella for flood control and dam safety, it becomes a kind of free-for-all.
There’s no cost for the water or moving it, since it’s all gravity-fed.
That’s like manna water — everybody wants some.
So, you don’t want to fill up on delta water if Kern River water is in play.
But that’s tricky to predict.
Right now, Isabella is at 170,000 acre feet, according to Kern River Watermaster Dana Munn.
Starting Feb.1, the Corps could let the level rise to 245,000 acre feet.
But it depends on how big the snowpack is and is expected to get.
A recent model shows the snowpack at 120 percent of normal, which would allow river interests (several ag water districts and the City of Bakersfield) to store up to 245,000 acre feet.
With more storms on the horizon, though, the Corps could get antsy about holding on to that water.
Or, as Munn noted, it could be like 1997.
Back then, we had a huge December and January, then it all came to a screeching halt.
Mother Nature is fickle like that.