Lois Henry

Tuesday, Apr 15 2014 04:28 PM

LOIS HENRY: Proposed Kern River water shuffle eyed with suspicion

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    Californian columnist Lois Henry

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By Lois Henry

When we have plenty of water, hardly anyone would sweat a couple hundred acre feet being moved around in the Kern River system.

But we don't have plenty of water. Not even close.

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So the mere suggestion of moving a small amount of water out of the river, or in this case the Carrier Canal, for a short amount of time has some people on full alert.

I know, I know. You don't know the Carrier Canal from the California Aqueduct and don't think it impacts your world.

Well, with everything water, yes it does, and you should know the wheres, hows and whys. If for no other reason than to impress your drinkin' buddies.

Here's how water on one part of the Kern River works.

The river flows more or less "free" from the mouth of the canyon until it comes to the Beardsley Canal on the north side of the river. A chunk of river water is put into the Beardsley, which takes it through Oildale up to several agricultural water districts north of Bakersfield.

The next diversion point along the Kern is the Carrier Canal on the south side of the River. The Carrier parallels the river until just past Union Avenue where it "Ts" off into another canal that takes water south to the Kern Delta Water District.

Meanwhile, water still in the actual river bed pools up behind the Calloway Wier, just east of Golden State Avenue, making a small lake at what's known as Upland Park, behind Sam Lynn Ball Park.

Key point: the Beardsley canal is concrete lined; the Carrier is unlined.

Hang with me, you can do this.

Also on Golden State Avenue is the Kern County Water Agency's water treatment plant, which provides water to taps in Oildale and parts of Bakersfield.

The agency usually gets water for the treatment plant from the California Aqueduct through its State Water Project contracts.

But that water isn't nearly as good as our Kern River water. Plus it takes a lot more energy to move it through the Cross Valley Canal from, essentially, Interstate 5 to the treatment plant on Golden State Avenue.

So, the agency jumps on any opportunity to swap its state water for Kern River water.

When it makes those swaps, it uses the river bed or the Carrier Canal to get water to the Calloway Weir where it goes into the Calloway Canal and on to the treatment plant.

Still with me?

OK, here's the problem.

Moving water through the river bed or Carrier Canal means the agency loses some water to seepage, also known as groundwater recharge.

It's not an insignificant amount.

The treatment plant had requested 54 cubic feet per second (cfs) via the river system at the beginning of this month, I was told by Dave Beard, who is in charge of Improvement District 4, the division within the agency that oversees the treatment plant.

Of that 54 cfs, it received only 22 cfs, meaning 32 cfs was lost to seepage.

It would be much more efficient, from the agency's perspective, to put the water in the lined Beardsley Canal. Then build a pipeline through Oildale to get the water from the canal to the treatment plant.

Or, in the short term, move the water through Beardsley to an existing pumping station on Airport Drive and pump it directly into the treatment plant. (That pumping station is typically used to move water north to Cawelo Water District, so could only be used in the reverse in the short term.)

Because we're in such a dire water year, the city will likely agree to the agency using that short-term approach.

Beard wasn't sure how much water it would save, but possibly as much as 20 cfs.

"That's water we could bring to the water districts to meet peak demand," Beard said.

True.

But water is like one of those number slide puzzles you used to get in a box of Cracker Jacks -- move one piece and, oops, another piece is blocked.

Which is why I got a number of alarmed emails from folks concerned that the agency's plan, even in the short term, will have a detrimental effect on the Upland Park and Panorama Vista Preserve areas.

Both rely not only on water in the river to keep trees and other flora alive, but also on seepage from the river and Carrier Canal.

Their reliance on that seepage isn't insignificant either.

The Panorama Vista group just received $2.5 million in grants to plant 136 acres of habitat. The group will be drawing some water from the Carrier through an agreement with the city. But a large reduction in seepage could have a serious effect.

"We're, of course, worried about the lack of rain," said Carolyn Belli, president of the Panorama Vista group. "But now we have to worry about this new twist."

Most water folks I spoke with, including the city and Kern Delta, didn't think shuffling water short-term would be a huge blow to those parks. After all, the Carrier will still be moving a substantial amount of water for Kern Delta.

However, the city did not like the idea of the agency building a pipeline that could mean permanently bypassing the river system. Such a project has been proposed by the agency through the Kern County Integrated Regional Water Plan. If it gets a high enough ranking from that group, it could be eligible for state funding.

The city would oppose that, I was told by Bakersfield Water Resources Department Manager Art Chianello.

Beard said the Beardsley/pipeline project wouldn't be a permanent bypass and would only be used in dry years, like this one.

But the city's opposition was steadfast.

"(The agency) needs to think of the groundwater basin, too," Chianello said. "If they're going to do something that keeps water from recharging the aquifer, they need to make up for that."

You know that seemingly innocent thread that, if you pull too much, unravels the whole sweater? That's water.

Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lois Henry, not The Bakersfield Californian. Her column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Comment at http://www.bakersfield.com, call her at 395-7373 or e-mail lhenry@bakersfield.com

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