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Tuesday, Mar 11 2014 11:02 PM

RUSSELL JOHNSON: How do we cope with drought? First, find answers to local issues

As residents of Kern County, the greater metropolitan Bakersfield area and the agriculture industry endure another dry year, questions from urban water users regarding the source and dependability of their water supply is first and foremost in everyone's mind. The agricultural industry, largely dependent on the State Water Project and the Federal Water Project, has made it clear that they are hurting. This has been on display during recent visits from federal officials and even the president. On January 17, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought state of emergency. Such a declaration sounds very ominous, but what does it really mean for residents of Bakersfield and the larger metro area? What are the practical impacts of our current situation, and what are local urban water purveyors doing in response to it?

This will be the focus of tomorrow's special meeting, which will begin at 2 p.m. in the City Council Chambers, located at 1501 Truxtun Ave. The meeting will provide a forum for urban water purveyors to discuss what is occurring in response to these drought conditions. Metropolitan Bakersfield is served by approximately six urban water purveyors. Each purveyor is unique in its water supply, drought contingency plans, water management philosophy, public outreach and education. As I was planning this water forum, I was impressed by the positive feedback I received from the purveyors. Residents want to hear an update on what is going on, and it was clear to me that each of the purveyors were looking for an opportunity to provide timely information as well. This water forum will give a stage to each of the water purveyors to discuss their unique water supply and conservation efforts.

Recently, the news has been filled with certain communities initiating fines for overwatering and limiting the number of days residents can water their yards. The city of Bakersfield is not in a position to impose such restrictions at this time due to our unique water assets, which will be discussed further during Thursday's forum. However, while water rationing and mandatory conservation efforts are not on the horizon for city residents, water conservation awareness and education is still very important and will be a main focus of discussion.

Hopefully, after the meeting, residents will have a better understanding of how to do their part in taking voluntary steps to be water wise and learn important information, such as the answer to these questions: Where can a person report a broken sprinkler pipe that is wasting water? What about overwatering and water running in the gutter? Can the public report this? This event is co-sponsored by the city of Bakersfield and the Water Association of Kern County. Local urban water suppliers participating in the forum include: The city of Bakersfield, California Water Service Company, Greenfield Water District, Oildale Mutual Water Company, East Niles Community Services District, Vaughn Water Company and Improvement District 4 (Kern County Water Agency).

Together we will discuss and learn about our local water supply and conservation measures. Districts that have successful conservation programs will be able to share with other purveyors, enabling us to work collectively to educate the public on conservation. In addition, new perspectives and approaches will be discussed so that locally we can use every drop to its fullest potential. We are all part of a larger water community. If our city, our county and our state are going to make it through this drought, it will take all of us to be part of the solution. Join us Thursday and find out how you can contribute.

Bakersfield City Councilman Russell Johnson represents Ward 7.

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