Kern River
Kern river. Photo: Richard Thornton /

Press Release Provided by the Kern County Water Agency

On December 15th, the Kern County Water Agency (Agency) declared a Water Supply Emergency in response to the severe shortage of water supplies for Kern County. This follows the December 1, 2021 announcement by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) that the initial 2022 State Water Project (SWP) water supply allocation is 0 percent. This announcement by DWR is unprecedented, with the previous lowest initial allocation being 5 percent in 2010 and 2014. 

With this allocation, the Agency will receive no SWP water in 2022, entering what could be the third consecutive year of critically dry weather, leaving the County’s water supplies at all-time lows. In addition to dry conditions in northern California, locally the 2021 Kern River water supplies were the second driest on record, leaving one of the smallest carryover balances in Isabella Reservoir since its existence.  

“This declaration should make all aware that these are extraordinary times for Kern County. Given these dry conditions, coordination and cooperation among local, State, and federal agencies will be required to maximize and optimize California’s very limited water resources.” Said Royce Fast, Agency Board of Directors (Board) President. 

Agricultural water users throughout the region were already on high alert following the past two dry years. During this severe shortage in surface water supply, Kern County farmers and others will continue to rely on the groundwater basin to make up the shortage. The Agency Member Units will be forced to continue recovering water from the approximately 1.6 million acre-feet currently stored in the Kern Fan banking projects and to pay the costs to recover these groundwater supplies in addition to the $155 million paid for SWP water not received in 2022. 

“To get through these extreme dry conditions, local farmers and others will look to water stored in groundwater banks in previous wet years. Unfortunately, groundwater reserves have been depleted in recent years with dry hydrology and the effects of regulatory restrictions in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Groundwater banks must be replenished consistently to be a viable resource. Ultimately, water shortages have a direct impact on Kern County’s economic health,” added Fast. 

Agency staff is working with local water districts to find ways to minimize the impacts of a third dry year, but those possibilities are stretched thin. Dramatically improved hydrologic conditions in the coming months could improve water supply conditions. 

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