The North Kern Water Storage District (North Kern or District) is situated in the San Joaquin Valley portion of Kern County and encompasses about 60,000 acres. The District lies between the City of Bakersfield on the south and the City of McFarland on the north, and between Highway 99 on the east and the cities of Wasco and Shafter on the west.
In 1950 the District completed a “project report” and subsequently implemented one of the first “conjunctive use” projects in California to optimize the use of highly variable Kern River water supplies within the District. Pursuant to this project, the District acquired the perpetual right to water accruing to various pre-1914 Kern River water rights and developed facilities to recharge (spreading ponds/recharge basins) and recover (wells) water associated with these rights. Since its inception North Kern has employed storage, recharge, recovery, exchange and transfer programs to optimize the use of water supplies. North Kern is fully developed to irrigated agriculture (although initial urban development is occurring at its southern boundary), with almonds and grapes accounting for over 60% of the cropped acreage. North Kern deliveries are principally accomplished through an open canal, gravity system, although many smaller canals have been replaced with pipelines.
The District was originally segregated almost equally into “Canal Irrigated” lands that received essentially all of their supplies from the District under both wet and dry conditions, and “Pump Irrigated” lands that where originally required to supply water under all conditions through their own private wells. Over time, however, these land designations were re-titled “Class 1” and “Class 2”, respectively, and almost all current Class 2 lands have now been connected to the District system, primarily to allow these lands to take District surface water in wetter years in-lieu of operating their wells.
Historical surface water supplies of North Kern have ranged from less than 10,000 acre-feet (AF) in a “very dry” year to nearly 400,000 AF in a “very wet” year. Owing to the highly variable Kern River supply, North Kern has been “forced” to regulate available surface water supplies from times of surplus (“wet” years) to times of need (“dry” years). This regulation has been accomplished, to a large extent, through use of the underlying groundwater reservoir. During “wet” years on the Kern River, significant deliveries of surface water are made to irrigation and spreading (for groundwater recharge). For the purpose of groundwater recharge, North Kern principally makes use of about 1,500 acres of recharge basins (water spreading areas). In “wet” years, more than 200,000 AF of water has been directed into recharge basins for replenishment of the groundwater aquifer. During “dry” years, deliveries of surface water to irrigation are greatly reduced and groundwater pumping is significant. Extraction of groundwater by the District’s 100 wells has ranged from zero to more than 100,000 AF in one year. North Kern has successfully operated its conjunctive use project for over 60 years.