brite lake

Brite Lake, shown here on Feb. 6, is the only water surface storage available in Tehachapi.

Ever wonder how much water is available to Tehachapi residents — including unincorporated areas? What preparation is made to store this needed resource and have extra supplies in case of disaster?

Tom Neisler, general manager of the Tehachapi-Cummings County Water District, talked with Tehachapi News, giving an update on this precious resource.

The district provides agriculture and urban water to more than 450 square miles of land including Tehachapi, Golden Hills, Bear Valley Springs, Stallion Springs and California Correctional Institution Tehachapi.

Most of the water makes its way from the northern part of the state, the Oroville Dam, the Feather River and Sacramento. Then, the water travels from the California Aqueduct, goes southeast into the mountains, travels underground toward Stallion Springs and ends up in Brite Lake.

There are multiple surface water storage and groundwater recharge areas in both Tehachapi basin and Cummings basin.

“We are going to great pains to fully utilize and expand our groundwater banking operation and we have done that pretty sufficiently,” Neisler said.

Neisler said the only surface water storage is Brite Lake. The basins can have more than 16,000 acre feet banked in the ground and 1,800 acre feet for surface storage.

“Our surface storage is basically utilized for peak deliveries. When we need to sell more water than we can import up the hill, we utilize and draw down the lake,” Neisler said.

What is the difference between surface storage and groundwater recharge, and how does it work?

Surface storage is a body of water that is pumped into lakes, ponds or other forms to use and usually within a short amount of time. 

“In our peak months — July, August, September — we will deliver 2,000 acre feet of water (monthly) to our customers. So our entire surface storage is less than one month’s peak supply,” Neisler said.

Groundwater recharge allows water to be stored until it is needed and in case water cannot be accessed directly from the aqueduct. It may be more expensive to pump up the water at a later time, rather than use surface water, but it can be looked at similar to a bank savings account, said Neisler.

The allocations given to the district each year mainly have to do with three factors — environmental regulations from the state, the amount of water they are holding in Oroville Dam, and the amount of rain we get each year.

Neisler added that the environmental regulations and the amount of water held in the Oroville Dam this year, compared to last year, which is less, reduces the allocation by an estimated 50 percent for 2018. 

Last year, the district was allocated 85 percent capacity, which was 16,405 acre feet. This year the district is estimating the allocation to be 20 percent and only 3,860 acre feet.

Kevin Durfee, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Hanford, said, "Last winter was a very good year for water and in California we had a lot of storms come through and they brought a generous supply of snow to the mountains and rain to the lower elevations."

He added, "This year we have been in a drought and it is less than 25 percent of normal of the Sierra snowpack. The reservoir owners have not been releasing water and they want to hold that water to get through the dry time in the year, which is the summer."

The operations for the district began Feb. 1 of this year and the largest amount of water is delivered from May to October.

Neisler said the reason new surface storage is not being built, even though land is available, has to do with funds not being given from the state connected with Proposition 1.

This water bond was created to help with state water infrastructure projects, drinking water and water storage. The funds allotted for water storage projects, dams and reservoirs totaled $2.7 billion from the bond, but no money has been given out, Neisler said.

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