With the California Department of Water Resources announcing last Friday that it will allocate zero water through the State Water Project -- on top of a second year of severe drought -- officials with the Tehachapi Cummings County Water District are exploring a number of alternatives for meeting water demands this year and the City of Tehachapi is planning further conservation efforts.
Although officials say that Tehachapi is in a better position than other water suppliers in California, the water district and the city are both looking for ways to conserve and diversify resources to adapt to the lack of this precious commodity.
City Manager Greg Garrett said with a six-year supply of water banked in the Tehachapi Basin (more than 10,000 acre feet) the city may be in a better position to meet demands with its current water supply than most areas of California.
"We're in a very good position, but that's not to say we're not concerned," Garrett said. "We're going to take proactive conservation approaches."
Some of those approaches include substituting potable water with recycled water whenever possible.
The city will take on what is known as the Snyder Well Intertie Project, where part of the Tehachapi Unified School District's irrigation system will be taken off of a potable well and placed on an agricultural line.
For example, Public Works Director Jon Curry said using recycled water for purposes like irrigating fields at Jacobsen Junior High School will save the city around 65 to 70 acre feet of drinking water per year.
Curry said the city has also been monitoring the amount of domestic water that is used in the wastewater treatment process. If the 100 to 120 acre feet of fresh water being used in that process could be retained ― along with potable water saved from changes with the school district ― the city would be conserving around 10 percent of its annual supply, Curry said.
The city of Tehachapi pumps around 2200 acre feet of water from the Tehachapi Basin per year, according to John Martin, General Manager of the Tehachapi Cummings County Water District.
Other measures being implemented to conserve include being more aggressive in enforcing city water waste ordinances, Curry said.
"Broken sprinkler heads leaking water down the street, things of that nature," Curry said.
Garrett said more plans for conservation efforts will be revealed later in the month.
"The biggest reason the drought to this point hasn't had a huge effect on Tehachapi is because we use groundwater for potable water," Curry said.
"If this went on for ten years, that's a different ball game."
For the past eight years, the city has purchased between 200 and 300 acre feet of water from the State Water Project for the purpose of artificial recharge.
But it was announced last Friday that the state will not allocate any water to the agencies that regularly receive imported water from the north.
In response to the California Department of Water Resources announcement, City Manager Greg Garrett said "We've been water banking for years, so we have a significant savings account."
"We did that for several reasons, this being one of them."
Martin said the Tehachapi-Cummings County Water District will have to rely heavily on groundwater in the Tehachapi Basin this year.
"The Tehachapi Basin contains large stores of groundwater which can be tapped during a crisis," Martin said.
TCCWD is currently operating all of its wells and is filling Jacobsen Reservoir, also known as Brite Lake, Martin said.
"We intend to bring the reservoir up to full capacity prior to the peak agricultural season. We are also researching the feasibility of connection to some old ag wells to our system or pumping them directly to agricultural supply ponds."
Martin said the district does have other resources that have been retained from years past, including 1,022 acre-feet that was carried over from the San Luis Reservoir in 2013.
Furthermore, the district has more than 6,000 acre-feet in groundwater storage in Bakersfield water banks, Martin said. Of that water, Martin said he hopes the district can recover 2,000 acre-feet this year, which would be brought over during peak farming season.
"Inasmuch as the Tehachapi-Cummings County Water District was formed with the express intent of protecting the local economy, we will do everything we can to ensure that all reasonable water demands are met so that the local economy will not be damaged," Martin said.
Martin said the district will try to fill all agricultural orders, but will first have to ask farmers to schedule their deliveries, utilize tail water, build water supply ponds where needed, and look into rehabilitating wells on property that they're farming.
"As for urban water demands, it is likely that we will not be able to provide any artificial recharge water this year," Martin said. "If urban water suppliers have insufficient native water rights to meet their demand, the water district will sell them its banked groundwater, which they can pump with their own wells."
Martin added that due to drought conditions, it is likely urban wells will not be as productive and therefore conservation will be evermore important.
"The water district will be providing technical assistance to water agencies in their conservation efforts," he said.
"Everyone should keep in mind that we are only halfway through winter and we may still receive significant precipitation," he went on. "I am hopeful that the final SWP will be better than zero, but we are prepared if conditions do not improve."