WOW, here we are in April and just finished March, which had more atmospheric river events. I am writing this article on March 13, and the Kern Subbasin flooded over the weekend, as did most of northern California. The governor issued an executive order on Friday, March 10, in preparation for the atmospheric river events coming in the next two weeks; where he states that California is seeing extreme rain and snow, so the state is making it simple to redirect water to recharge groundwater basins. It has taken the governor and his administration to consider that this winter has been extreme regarding rain and snow until mid-March. Where would this state have been if the acknowledgment had come a month ago or, even better than that, in January? The idea that California wasn’t in extremely wet conditions when the snow survey on March 3 recorded 116.5 inches of snow depth and a snow water equivalent of 41.5 inches, which was 177 percent of average, is absurd. And today, the statewide snow water content reflects 217 percent of the average, with a snow water equivalent of 53.4 inches. Unfortunately, it has taken this long for the state to react, especially when the state touts how it can watch weather patterns. I can appreciate that there is a balancing act between all beneficial users (including communities and cities), the environment, and agriculture. Still, all of these need good stewardship of this vital resource. And it was and has been easier to manage water under a drought situation, but being able to pivot to the other extreme is crucial for the future.
To explore why the ability to pivot quickly in both directions, please see below the State Water Project (SWP) allocations history for the Kern Subbasin. It provides an account of how much of the contract of water that the SWP Kern County received. As you can see, since 2000, the Kern Subbasin experienced a drastic reduction of reliability – it went from an 88% reliability before 2000 to a 55% reliability. Within the last ten years, the Kern Subbasin is at 42% reliability. This brings me to the subject of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) and the determination by the Department of Water Resources (DWR) on the Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSP). DWR determined that the GSP was inadequate, and now comes the new process of working with the State Water Board. I have learned from working on the GSP since 2016 that if the Kern Subbasin was still receiving 88% of its contracted water allocations, this basin would not be classified as critically overdrafted. In SGMA, that means a lot. I believe if the Kern Subbasin received its contracted water, we would not be in its current position. So, how do we proceed? As I have always stated, if you are not at the table, you are on the menu! Your engagement as a landowner is vital and now more than ever. Go to your water district meetings and ask how they intend to move forward. Also, read the DWR determination letter to discuss the issues (if you need a copy, contact the Kern County Farm Bureau). One item to note on this process is that the state has the authority to require that you register your water wells at a current cost of $300 per well and provide your extraction amounts, meaning they can demand that you put a meter on your well. They also have the authority to charge you an extraction fee of $40 per acre-feet. And currently, no one in the Kern Subbasin is exempt from this process. Therefore, I recommend that you engage.