The Kern River to your sink: how Bakersfield cleans water

How Cal Water saves residents from E. Coli
Posted at 6:34 PM, Aug 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-01 21:34:09-04

The California Water Service takes samples from 40 sample sites and 80 wells across Bakersfield every single day to test the pH, bacteria levels, temperature and chlorine levels of the water that flows through resident's sinks. 

These tests are done to ensure residents are drinking clean and safe water. One major goal with the bacteria testing is to ensure there are not high levels of coliform, because that is an indicator that E.Coli could be in the water. However, these tests are very sensitive. Assistant District Manager for Cal Water, Geoff Fulks, says the weather can affect these tests and lead to what they call false positives.

"On a windy day you can get a false positive from wind or soil or anything like that so even on a rainy day we don't like the splashing up," said Fulks. 

Fulks says coliform is everywhere, so these tests have to be taken carefully to ensure they don't get contaminated.

Bakersfield gets their water from two major resources: the Kern River and groundwater. However, Cal Water views groundwater as a savings account and prefers to not use it. The Kern River, on the other hand, is flowing higher than normal this year so there is more of it. The water taken from the Kern River goes through five "barriers" as Treatment Plant Operator Clay Suskin puts it, which ensures the water is clean enough for drinking. 

"There’s dirt and contaminants in the river. Animal waste, human waste, pollution naturally occurring. We add a chemical into the water that causes those particles to settle out when we slow the flow down. We then filter that water and then we add chlorine to disinfect it. It swirls around in our tank and then its pumped to the public it’s safe to drink," said Suskin.

He says ensuring the public gets clean water is the most important part of his job. 

This all comes after Westchester, an area of downtown Bakersfield, recently had a Boil Water Alert because one of those bacteria tests came back positive, meaning there was a chance of E. Coli in that area's tap water. Fulks says because of those chances of contamination, there's a chance that test was a false positive. However, to be safe, they put the alert into place until they had two consecutive days of clean samples, which they did the two following days.