Bakersfield water customers used less water in June -- but need to keep up the good work

·4 min read

Aug. 13—It's no secret that Bakersfield is deep in another drought year.

The Kern River's April to July runoff — an important indicator of the area's water health — reached just 21 percent of normal this year, said Miguel Chavez, hydrographic supervisor at the city of Bakersfield's Department of Water Resources.

But last year was worse. That's when the entire watershed received just 15 percent of the precipitation that feeds the Kern in a normal year, making 2021 the second driest water year on the Kern River watershed since officials began keeping track in 1893.

But there's something of a bright side.

California Water Service Co.'s local water customers — there are more than 287,000 of them — cut their water use in June by 16.9 percent, compared to June 2020.

Yvonne Kingman, director of corporate communications for California Water Service, said the reduction in water use by customers in Bakersfield is encouraging, although the July usage numbers should be available soon, and it will be important to see whether local water users are able to remain consistent in their conservation efforts.

"That's the important number," Kingman said of the month-on-month comparison. "That's what all the suppliers are looking at."

The state is asking for a 20 percent reduction, and it's entirely possible to hit it. According to state records, 32 water suppliers up and down California reached 20 percent or better cuts in water use last June.

The city of Shasta Lake in Shasta County managed a 20 percent cut. And Marin Municipal Water District, north of San Francisco, saw a 25 percent decrease in water use between June 2020 and June 2022.

Customers of Atascadero Mutual Water Co., west of Bakersfield on the Central Coast, reduced their water use by 27.6 percent, and the city of Modesto in Stanislaus County in the San Joaquin Valley hit an impressive 33.7 percent cut in water use.

"It's too soon to tell if we will need to go to additional restrictions this summer," Kingman said.

Cal Water is constantly monitoring supply and demand, she said, and will make future determinations as conditions warrant.

"But for now, there are no plans to move to Stage 3," she said of the more restrictive regulatory level.

"If customers continue to conserve water in the way they did in June," Kingman said, "that will definitely help."

For Bakersfield residents, outdoor and turf water usage is limited to three days per week — and only after 6 p.m. and before 9 a.m.

Odd-numbered addresses should water on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Even-numbered addresses may water on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. No outdoor watering is permitted on Mondays.

But Kingman said Cal Water is encouraging property owners to keep their trees watered, even if their lawns turn gold. It takes less water to keep a mature tree alive, she said, than it does to nurture a sapling to adulthood.

According to a strategy being developed by the office of Gov. Gavin Newsom, hotter and drier weather conditions spurred by climate change have the potential to reduce California's water supply by as much as 10 percent by the year 2040.

To replace and replenish what California will lose to thirstier soils, vegetation and the atmosphere, Newsom on Thursday announced the state's latest actions to increase water supply and adapt to more extreme weather patterns caused by climate change, his office said in a news release.

The announcement follows $8 billion in state investments over the past two years to help store, recycle, de-salt and conserve the water it will need to keep up with the increasing pace of climate change, generating enough water in the future for more than 8.4 million households by 2040.

The actions, outlined in a strategy document published by the administration titled "California's Water Supply Strategy, Adapting to a Hotter, Drier Future" calls for investing in new sources of water supply, accelerating projects and modernizing how the state manages water through new technology.

"The best science tells us that we need to act now to adapt to California's water future," Newsom said in the release. "Climate change means drought won't just stick around for two years at a time like it historically has — extreme weather is a permanent fixture here in the American West and California will adapt to this new reality."

Reporter Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.