Water district begins importing water as state faces more storms
The pumps are running. With the potential of additional water becoming available the Tehachapi-Cummings County Water District fired up its importation system on March 15, about two weeks earlier than originally planned.
General Manager Tom Neisler shared that news with members of the district’s board at their meeting the same day, along with updates on the water situation statewide as reservoirs have filled and, in some cases, spilled.
Among the many challenges for the district, Neisler said, are that with fields soaked from rain and flooding, customers won’t be ready for water for a while. And because the district had planned to begin using two pumps on April 1 — and instead is running three pumps — its natural gas costs will be higher.
But, he explained to the board and members of the public at the meeting, the earlier start is necessary to attempt to capture all of the water that may be made available to the district this year — even though the state Department of Water Resources has not yet increased its allocation.
Neisler outlined some of the practical and political forces that come to play with the State Water Project.
The district, and other contractors for SWP water, are typically provided with far less water than what is known as the “Table A” allocation. And in recent years the contractors often don’t know what their final allocation will be until late spring.
Last year the initial allocation was zero. By January it was up to 15 percent, but it dropped to 5 percent in March. This year, the initial allocation was 5 percent. On Jan. 26 it was increased to 30 percent and it was upped again on Feb. 22 to 35 percent.
Even with a record-breaking snowpack, more storms on the way and many reservoirs releasing water so they won’t be further overwhelmed with more snow melts, the DWR has not increased the allocation.
An increase is expected by most water-watchers.
But if the district waits until it has official word, it could miss weeks of opportunity to bring the water up the hill from the base of the Grapevine where it is pulled out of the California Aqueduct.
Neisler added that there are two other possible sources of water for this district this year. One is what is called “Article 21” water, which is sometimes called “wet weather water” that is made available to contractors when there is a lot of water in the system. There is also a chance that some water may become available from the Kern River.
For all the water that may be available — either through an increase in the allocation or other programs — the district must either deliver it directly to customers or store it.
Typically, the district pumps it into Brite Lake or underground in the Cummings or Tehachapi basins. But it may also store the water in the San Joaquin Valley to save it for a future year.
Although the logistics are complicated, Neisler said that the rainfall and potential sources of water are all good news.
“I am exceedingly surprised at the changed hydrologic conditions we are experiencing this water year,” he said. “I am even more grateful than I am surprised. We have much more water available for our customers than I imagined in my wildest dreams when planning for 2023 commenced last fall.”
PUMPING ALLOCATION TRANSFERS
The board also approved temporary transfers of allowed pumping allocations in the Tehachapi Basin.
According to a staff report presented by Catherine Adams, executive assistant, requests for temporary assignments of water rights must be filed with the district, as watermaster, by March 1 of each year.
All requested temporary transfers were approved by the board.
They included the transfer of 410 acre feet from Lehigh Cement West, LLC, 13.334 acre feet from Donna Rae Schmidt, et al, 284.667 acre feet from Lester A.
Safier Trust, 12 acre feet from Comprehend & Copy Nature LLC, 203.333 acre feet from Kubicek Trust, 6 acre feet from Kallenberger/ Sides, 8.667 acre feet from Jong S. Hwang and Richard Hwang and 8.667 acre feet from Nunhems USA, Inc.
The largest recipients of transferred pumping allocations are Golden Hills Community Services District with 300 acre feet and the city of Tehachapi with 506 acre feet.
Other recipients are the county of Kern with 10 acre feet, Benz-Visco Youth Sports/Cultural Park with
100 acre feet, John Pulford with 11.334 acre feet, John Kolesar with 2 acre feet and Green Rich Farms with 17.334 acre feet.
Parties to the temporary transfers make their own deals for use of the pumping allocations, generally referred to only as a “valuable consideration” in the paperwork filed with the water district.