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Wednesday, May 01 2013 06:55 PM

Water rationing not our cup of tea

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BY STEVEN MAYER Californian staff writer smayer@bakersfield.com

While it's true the Kern River is bound to have one its driest years on record in 2013, don't expect local water managers to argue for urban water rationing.

The southern valley has endured cycles of wet and dry seasons since long before Col. Thomas Baker arrived here in 1863. Water-watchers have seen it all before.

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A few tips for saving water

-- Turn faucet off when brushing teeth, shaving.

-- Install a faucet aerator on your bathroom and kitchen sinks.

-- Don't use your toilet as a wastebasket.

-- Install a water-saving showerhead.

-- Consider installing a high-efficiency toilet that only uses 1.28 gallons per flush.

-- Rinse dishes, vegetables and fruits in a filled basin rather than under running water.

-- Wash only full loads in the dishwasher and washing machine.

-- Hand-wash single garments.

-- Consider buying a high-efficiency washing machine that will save water and energy.

-- Take shorter showers. Restricting showers to less than five minutes can save up to 1,000 gallons per month.

-- Plug the bathtub before turning the water on, and then adjust the temperature as the tub fills up.

-- Fix leaky faucets: Just one drip a second can waste 2,000 gallons of water per year.

Sources: Volunteerguide.org and Nature's Voice -- Our Choice

"We historically haven't done rationing," said Jason Meadors, second in command at the Department of Water Resources for the city of Bakersfield.

Unlike Fresno and some other California cities that have occasionally implemented forms of urban water rationing during drought years, Bakersfield has not.

"Our area is pretty special," Meadors said. "We have surface water, we have groundwater and we have the ability to recharge our groundwater in wet years for use in dry years."

Sure, 2013 is certain to be a dismal season for snow runoff in the Kern River basin, with water flow projected to drop below 20 percent of normal. And that's coming on the heels of another low-water year in 2012.

But in a well-established pattern of feast or famine, 2010 was "a pretty darned good year" at 124 percent of normal, Meadors said. And 2011 was a barn-burner, with 202 percent of normal runoff filling the river and replenishing area water banks.

"The Kern River is highly variable," Meadors said. "But I don't see a case where all of our wells go dry."

Of course, that doesn't mean urban water users shouldn't conserve. They should. And it doesn't mean people aren't hurting. They are.

Businesses that are dependent upon a healthy, flowing river for recreational use and tourism are looking forward to a terrible summer season.

And many area growers are already rationing water -- by necessity, said Curtis Creel, water resources manager for the Kern County Water Agency, which contracts with the state to provide water for municipal, industrial and agricultural use.

The State Water Project -- water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta delivered via the California Aqueduct -- cut the local allocation to 35 percent of normal, Creel said.

"It's basically telling the farmers you'll have to farm without sufficient water," he said. "Farmers are suffering from water shortages. It's a problem they face year-in and year-out."

But the aquifer, the natural geological formation that soaks up and safely stores water beneath the surface, is "in pretty good shape," Creel said, with approximately 2 million acre-feet of water on hand.

By comparison, when Isabella Lake is at capacity, it holds 568,000 acre-feet.

But Creel cautioned that water banks aren't like credit cards. You have to put the water in before you can take it out.

Rudy A. Valles Jr., the district manager of California Water Service in Bakersfield, agreed that Bakersfield has plenty of banked water -- for now. But another dry year or two could deplete that resource.

"People in Bakersfield have done a really good job of conserving water," he said. "But now is the time to conserve even more."

In 2009, the California Legislature passed Water Conservation Act, Senate Bill 7, which mandated a 20 percent reduction in per capita water use statewide by the year 2020.

According to local water managers, Bakersfield residents are on track to achieve that goal.

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