SD16 Water Issues

Another California Water Diversion Project in Kern County.  - thanks for sharing this Kern Valley Sun article with us, Gary Amstutz, Kern River Democratic Club.

Excerpt from article:

Photo courtesy of Onyx Ranch South Fork Valley Water Project Initial Study
A map of the Kern River Valley shows the project sites where the Rosedale Rio Bravo Water Storage District plans to divert water from South Fork into Isabella Lake, then on to the district for ground water recharge.

The Rosedale-Rio Bravo Water Storage District unveiled their plan to divert water from the Onyx and Smith Ranches and deliver it to their service area in the San Joaquin Valley during a recent public meeting attended by approximately 90 South Fork area residents.

The purpose of the March 6 meeting was to provide attendees with an overview of the project as outlined in the Initial Study, the first environmental document prepared for the project. District representatives also reviewed the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process, a process that will provide opportunities for the public and interested agencies to comment on the project.

Dan Bartel, Assistant General Manager and District Engineer with Rosedale-Rio Bravo Water Storage District (District) opened the meeting by saying that they do not wish to be secretive about the project, adding that before they move any water downstream, an environmental analysis will be prepared and the public will be allowed to ask questions and give comment.

The Initial Study, which was released on Feb. 22, discusses the background and objectives of the proposed project, referred to as the Onyx Ranch South Fork Valley Water Project.

As presented in the Initial Study, the project would change the points of water diversion and location of use for Kern River water rights from land located in the South Fork Valley to the District’s service area located in the San Joaquin Valley, where the water would be used for irrigation and groundwater recharge.

The surface water would be diverted through the South Fork of the Kern River, then through the Isabella Dam, downstream in the lower Kern River to the District’s diversion point. From there, the water would be used to recharge basins and channels within their service area west of the City of Bakersfield.

The District owns 29 parcels of land and the associated water rights for the Onyx Ranch and the Smith Ranch, which together comprise the 4,109-acre project site. The majority of the project site, 3,418 acres, is located on the Onyx Ranch, with the remaining 691 acres within the Smith Ranch.

Because the District proposes to reduce the amount of water diverted from the river onto the properties of the project site, the on-site irrigated fields would be converted to low-water use crops or the fields would simply be allowed to return to their native vegetative state.

According to the Initial Study, of the 3,418 acres on the Onyx Ranch, 2,312 acres are currently used for an agricultural purpose with approximately 611 acres of riparian pasture and the remaining 1,701 acres used for irrigated agricultural purposes. For the Smith Ranch portion, of the 691 acres, approximately 290 acres are riparian pasture and mountainous areas and approximately 400 acres are used for irrigated agricultural purposes.

The District started investigating the potential for a project in 2008, and in 2013, acquired approximately 3,732 acres of the Onyx Ranch from ReNuable Resources, a company who had purchased approximately 67,000 acres in 2009 from the Rudnick Trust. In 2015, the District acquired approximately 690.76 acres, or one-third interest of the Smith Ranch, from James Neukirchner.

Karen Northcutt of Northcutt and Associates, the consultant who prepared the Initial Study, told those in attendance that the scoping meeting is early in the process of the environmental analysis, adding that there is a considerable amount of information that they do not yet have. The Initial Study is out for public review and comment, but there will be other opportunities for the public to comment.

Discussing the project objectives, District representatives said they contract with the State of California for a water supply from the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta. While they pay approximately $3 million per year, they receive only a portion of the water. In an effort to ensure stable sources of water supply, the District developed a series of projects intended to acquire additional water.

The purchase of the Onyx and Smith Ranches and associated water rights would help mitigate the shortages in the District’s contracted water supply. The Onyx project is considered by the District to be a cost-effective means to acquire water through the water rights, which is perpetual, rather than a contracted water supply with a limited term.

The water rights associated with the proposed project are pre-1914 appropriative rights to divert water from the South Fork of the Kern River. The majority of the water rights were quantified in a 1902 Decree, which provides for a specific quantity of diversion based on various factors.

For purposes of the proposed project, the amount of water that would flow downstream for use in the District’s service area would be determined by the amount of water available under each water right and based on flows in the South Fork of the Kern River. For example, the amounts of water that could be moved downstream to the District would likely be similar to the amounts diverted and used on the Onyx and Smith Ranches in recent years.

But just how much surface water would be diverted is currently unknown. Northcutt explained to attendees that those are questions that will be addressed during the preparation of the Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR), the next environmental document that will be prepared.

The Draft EIR will include an analysis of the project-specific and cumulative environmental impacts of the proposed project as well as recommended mitigation measures to address those impacts that have been identified.

While attendees were encouraged to ask questions, the District announced at the meeting onset that detailed analysis of environmental topics had not yet been done; therefore, District representatives could not provide answers to many questions. Residents were encouraged to submit their questions in writing and were told that their questions would be addressed in the Draft EIR.

When the meeting was opened for questions, most centered around water. Questions included:
* Who is monitoring how much water is being diverted?
* Will there be monitoring wells and standards set for them, such as Owens Valley has?
* Are affected farmers going to have to dig further down for water?
* Is the District accounting for more drought years?
* Where will the District get water during drought years?
* Will all questions and comments be posted online so that residents know they are received?
* Does the District have more acquisitions planned?

Concerns were also raised by attendees regarding how the EIR would address the effects of climate change, and how this project would affect the local economy.

Judy Hyatt, who serves as the community outreach liaison for the District said public input is critical during the preparation of the project’s environmental document.

“It is absolutely vital for the public to comment so that their concerns can be addressed,” Hyatt said. “There is a general concern about water because water is a sensitive subject. We need to know how the public feels and what questions or concerns they have,” she said adding that questions will be answered and the responses will be part of the public record for the final document.

A copy of the Initial Study is available for review at the Lake Isabella library and from the District website at:

Written comments must be received by the District no later than Friday, March 23. Comments can also be emailed to: