News23ABC In-Depth


Heavy water year lets wildlife thrive on Kern Water Bank grounds

The goal is to be able to preserve and store water during wet years for use during years of drought.
Posted: 9:53 AM, Jun 29, 2023
Updated: 2023-06-29 19:00:42-04
Kern Water Bank
Kern Water Bank
Kern Water Bank
Kern Water Bank
Kern Water Bank
Kern Water Bank
Kern Water Bank
Kern Water Bank
Kern Water Bank
Kern Water Bank
Kern Water Bank

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — The Kern Water Bank is a recharge facility that diverts water into an underground aquifer. The goal is to be able to preserve and store water during wet years for use during years of drought.

It is a 32-square-mile property just west of Highway 43 near Panama Lane. The property has over 80 recharge basins, where water slowly seeps into the ground aquifer. The groundwater basins resemble lakes, which fill up during wet years, and with all that water, comes the wildlife.

"We hired an ornithologist because I can’t tell, and he's counted 240 species of birds on the water bank and as far as water birds go he’s counted as many as 35,000," explained John Parker, the general manager of the Kern Water Bank Authority.

Since it’s been a high-water year, birds and plant life are abundant at the water bank.

"There's endangered plants. We have San Joaquin Wooly Threads, are an endangered plant. We have other plants that are special status plants. We have endangered species on the water bank as well booth special status species with the birds and there is endangered species with some of the mammals," continued Parker.

There’s even some livestock on site for selective grazing or to moderate some of the plant life. Fish fill the water, which the birds use for food. The water bank operates under a habitat conservation plan.

"It is essentially a permit with both wildlife agencies, both state and federal, for the operation of the project. It allows us to operate it as a water bank and also as a wildlife conservation project," said Parker.

The Kern Water Bank Authority is a nonprofit.

"The water that we store is on behalf of our members, and so we don’t own the water. We don’t own it and sell it," explained Parker.

The members bought the land to establish the water bank, which is composed of 5 irrigation districts and Improvement District 4, which supplies water to Bakersfield

"The water bank covers 20,600 acres so it's about 32 square miles," continued Parker. "We have about 8,800 acres of recharge basins and we have 91 wells to recover it.

During wet years like this one, the recharge basins are full of water, which is slowly seeping into the soil, where it stays until it needs to be pumped.

"It's years like this when we are probably going to be charging all year and then there's ya know, we’ve had three or four years in a row of drought where we are pumping water out for all that time," said Parker.

Though it is closed to the public, the kern water bank gives tours to groups,

"We do tours all the time, so we’ll bring people out here to show them the water bank and show them the activities that we do. We are more than happy to do that," said Parker.

Parker said the water bank could potentially break the record this year for most water stored, which was set in 2017 when the bank stored 560,00 acre-feet, which is roughly the capacity of Lake Isabella.


California also has a plan for storing water whenever there's an extremely wet winter like last year.

According to the governor's office, California is investing nearly $8.6 billion to ensure that water from storms is captured and conserved to help preserve supplies for communities, wildlife, and the environment.

The state is also expanding groundwater recharge by at least 500,000 acre-feet in potential capacity by streamlining permits and funding over $1 billion for recharge projects.

The state is also providing $176 million for 67 stormwater capture projects and streamlining permitting to take advantage of major storm events.

California is also working to expand the San Luis Reservoir by 135,000 acre-feet to store more storm runoff.