Saving it For Later: Groundwater Banking

In early June, environmentalists and Delta water agencies sued the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the Kern County Water Agency (KCWA) over the validity of the transfer of the Kern Water Bank, a huge underground reservoir that supplies water to farms and cities locally and outside the area. The suit, which culminates a decade-long controversy involving multiple issues of state and local jurisdictional authority, has put the spotlight on groundwater banking – an important but controversial water management practice in many areas of California.

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California Drought is No Problem for Kern County Oil Producers

Farming accounts for the lions’ share of water use in Kern County and 88 percent of the Kern County Water Agency, according to Creel. This is not surprising when one looks at a map of the San Joaquin Valley. In spite of the valley’s desert conditions, the region has been transformed by these massive irrigation projects into a Cartesian gridwork of farms. Today, irrigated farmland and grazing pastures account for more than half of Kern County’s 8,100 square miles.

But there is another big water user in Kern County – the oil industry. In spite of the dwindling production from its aging oilfields, Kern County still accounts for 10 percent of the U.S.’s domestic oil production. While occupying a far smaller land footprint than the county’s agricultural users, the Kern County oil industry consumes a staggering volume of water. According to the California Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, Kern County oil companies injected 1.3 billion barrels of water and steam into the ground in order to produce 162 million barrels of oil a year.

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