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Water Summit held in Bakersfield discusses Central Valley drought recovery

The general consensus of the experts at the 7th Annual Water Association of Kern County Summit on Friday was that the news is, on the whole, very good.
2023 water summit
Posted at 8:47 PM, Mar 24, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-24 23:58:50-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Coming off a year of exceptional drought, 14 atmospheric rivers have quenched the thirst for water in the Central Valley since December. Amid the influx, the Water Association of Kern County hosted its 7th Annual Summit on Friday, March 24 to discuss the county's critical water issues.

The speakers say the rainfall means good news for Central Valley farmers.

"The last two years, the State Water Project allocation has been 5 percent, but this year, just announced today, 75 percent allocation," said Peter Nelson, a member of the Colorado River Board in California.

This increase represents about 750,000 acre feet of the State Water Project water for Kern County this year.

Nelson credits the dramatic increase in water allocation to the extensive rainfall and over 200 percent snowpack to the April 1 average this year.

"This will be a tremendous water supply to use for crops this year, as well as to store in the ground for future years," said Nelson.

According to Nelson, this will put less demand on the Colorado River, allowing the Metropolitan Water District to supply water through the State Water Project and permit the Colorado River Board to store their water without the demand of the Los Angeles Basin.

Experts, like Tom McCarthy, general manager of the Kern County Water Agency, say they're moving the abundant water supply into recharge facilities and fallowed fields to get the water into the ground for storage in the event of future droughts.

"It allows for that reliable supply of water for agricultural aspects, but as well as keeping water rates down for municipal agencies like City of Bakersfield, Cal Water," said McCarthy. "So, having lower water bills for you and me."

McCarthy hopes for a gentle melt this year, saying it will make managing the incoming water from the melting snow much easier. He also says investing in infrastructure will help officials to better handle extreme wet periods like this year has been so far.

"If we have a reliable water supply, it means we have reliable jobs as well, and so from reliable jobs to keeping costs down for agriculture and for food prices across the nation, it's really a trickle-down as far as impacts to many," said McCarthy.

Water Association Executive Director Jenny Holtermann says that while the rainfall this year has helped replenish the aquifers and benefitted agriculture, experts continue to deal with ongoing issues related to water supply in Kern County. According to Holtermann, part of the reason for Friday's gathering was to plan ahead.

"Water is one of our most vital resources, and it fuels everything, from us drinking, our daily use, as well as agriculture, oil," said Holtermann. "It fuels our economy and it fuels our bodies, and it is a scarce commodity."

Experts say the state has already seen an extremely wet year, but we'll need many more years of this kind of weather to see long-lasting effects.