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Where Does Bakersfield Get Its Water?

Whether you’re a lifelong Bakersfield resdent or  new transplant to one of California’s most populous cities, you may wonder about the source of one of your most important utilities—where does Bakersfield get its water?

In this article, we’ll discuss Bakersfield’s five main water sources. Since local water supplies are always at risk for potential contamination, we’ll also explore common Bakersfield water contamination threats and mitigation strategies that can protect your home, business, factory, or farm. 

Bakersfield Water Sources

California Water Service (CWS) provides clean drinking water access throughout Bakersfield and the surrounding Kern County area.1 So, where does CWS get the water it provides to homes, businesses, manufacturing facilities, and farms? Is tap water safe in Bakersfield, CA?

Let’s take a closer look at the sources.

#1 Groundwater Wells

CWS extracts most of Kern County’s water from groundwater wells—approximately 36% of the water supply.2

Wells provide groundwater from the water table—the point underground at which all soil, rocks, and organisms are completely submerged in water—and this water is often treated with purification agents or filtered before transport in the local plumbing infrastructure.3

CWS produces water for Kern County via 69 active wells in the surrounding area. These wells offer some significant benefits for consumers, government agencies, and water producers alike:

  • Wells take up limited space, reducing the real estate needed for water extraction infrastructure. 
  • Since they access the water table, wells make it easy to monitor the health and water level of local aquifers—the underground water stores that supply groundwater.
  • Wells allow access to water even in unfavorable geological conditions. By simply drilling downward, water suppliers can extract resources even in sandy, silty, or rocky water tables.

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#2 State Water Project—The California Aqueduct

The California State Water Project (SWP) is a massive infrastructure system that stores and transports water to over 27 million Californians.4 The 705-mile long network incorporates numerous water storage, transport, and management technologies, like:

  • Canals
  • Pipelines
  • Reservoirs
  • Hydroelectric power facilities

These combined technologies provide water throughout the state, and the system is sometimes referred to as The California Aqueduct. 

The California Aqueduct provides approximately 26% of Kern County’s water, making it the second-largest source after groundwater wells.2 The project offers other benefits to the state:

  • Improved aquifer water levels
  • Recreation and education opportunities for California residents
  • Hydroelectric power generation—a sustainable alternative to coal-based energy

California Water Service purchases water from the California Department of Water Resources to supplement the supply generated from groundwater wells.

#3 Kern River

Bakersfield gets 20% of its water from the Kern River.2

The Kern River originates in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains, where it’s primarily fed by snowmelt from peaks like Mount Ericsson and Mount Whitney.5 Furthermore, the North Fork of the Kern River  between the Johnsondale bridge and Lake Isabella. 

Before Kern river water flows through Bakersfield, the river passes through Sequoia National Park and Sequoia National Forest, across rocky granite ledges, and around wetland habitats. With its 30 feet per mile gradient, it’s one of the steepest rivers in North America.

While adventurers can try their luck on the steep Class IV and V rapids, water suppliers—luckily—don’t have to board a white water raft to supply the Bakersfield area with Kern river water. 

Since the river passes directly through the city and surrounding areas, providers can supplement the groundwater well, and State Water Project reserves with water delivered from the highest peaks of California’s snowy mountains. 

After it flows through Bakersfield, the Kern River joins a series of canals in nearby Tupman. 

#4 Federal Water Projects

The Bakersfield water supply receives 12% of its water supply from two major infrastructure systems developed by the US Bureau of Reclamation:2

  • The Central Valley Project (CVP) – In 1938, the Bureau of Reclamation began constructing what would become a 400-mile long system of canals, reservoirs, dams, and hydroelectric power plants to prevent flooding in California’s Central Valley and transport water throughout the region.6
  • Friant-Kern Canal – The Friant-Kern Canal is a portion of the CVP that stretches 152 miles from Fresno to Bakersfield.7 It’s completely gravity-controlled—water movement in the canal doesn’t require any pumps. 

These federally-managed water systems primarily supply agricultural and industrial businesses throughout the area, mostly due to the systems’ respective proximities to farmland. 

However, both sources have received their fair share of negative publicity—in 2006, Friant Dam (which helps control the canal flow and water level) caused reduced river flow in the San Joaquin River, resulting in decimated seasonal salmon runs that year. Efforts to rehabilitate the area and San Joaquin River are still ongoing. 

Additionally, the CVP originally planned on installing infrastructure to capture agricultural runoff, but this portion of the project was left unfinished for multiple years. As a result, mineral buildup from the runoff has posed contamination risks to the water supply.8

#5 Local Streams and Other Sources

Bakersfield and the surrounding Kern County area derive 6% of their water supply from local streams and other sources.2

To recap, Bakersfield’s other water sources—and their share of the water supply—include:

  • Groundwater wells (36%)
  • The State Water Project/California Aqueduct (26%)
  • The Kern River (20%)
  • Federal Water Projects (12%)

To supplement these sources—which supply 94% of the region’s water—water suppliers turn to small rivers, creeks, and canals. For instance, suppliers can source water from Poso Creek, a small canal originating in the Kern National Wildlife Refuge, when they need to bolster collection efforts. 

Supplying water to homes, businesses, industrial operations, and farms require cooperation from multiple parties and favorable conditions in a variety of water sources. 

Contaminant Considerations for the Water Supply

We’ve explored where Bakersfield gets its water.

As you can see, some of that water takes a long journey before reaching its destination. While water usually goes through a purification process, it’s natural to wonder about the quality of your water supply. 

Next, we’ll talk about the contamination possibilities that could affect the safety of your home, business, factory, or farm water supply. While some of what you are about to read may be concerning it is imperative to understand that the contaminants listed may or may not be in your water and it is always recommended that you contact your local Rayne Representative today for the best recommendation for your water treatment. 

#1 Physical Contaminants

The United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Safe Drinking Water Act outlines four kinds of drinking water contaminants:9

  1. Physical
  2. Chemical
  3. Biological
  4. Radiological

The physical water contaminants mainly impact the physical qualities of drinking water—odor, color, clarity, and taste. Common physical water contaminants include sediments (silt, soil, and sand) or any suspended organic matter (small plants or rocks). 

Since most of Bakersfield’s water comes from groundwater wells, large-scale water transport infrastructure, and the Kern River, the local water supply is susceptible to physical contaminants due to soil erosion around wells and silt runoff into rivers, reservoirs, and the water table. 

Water suppliers   filter out a portion of physical contaminants, but small particles can still make it through your faucet. A high-quality reverse osmosis system can help filter contaminants from your water supply if you’re unsatisfied with its color, odor, taste, or clarity.

#2 Chemical Contaminants

Chemical contaminants—which can be manmade or naturally occurring—can react with molecules to cause chemical reactions in the water supply.9 Some examples include:

  • Nitrogen
  • Bleach
  • Salts
  • Pesticides and fertilizers
  • Metals
  • Toxins produced by bacteria
  • Prescription drugs (for animals or humans)

You may be able to see the results of chemical contaminants if you have hard water stains near faucets and drains in your home or office. When water is contaminated with high levels of dissolved calcium and magnesium, these chemicals can build up on plumbing fixtures and inside pipes—a sign that you have hard water in your home.10

While you may be able to observe some physical results of chemical contaminants (e.g., hard water stains) remember that not all chemical reactions are visible to the naked eye. 

For instance, oversaturation of nitrogen in drinking water can cause chemical reactions that create unsafe levels of ammonia or nitrous oxide in the water supply.11 Excess nitrogen can also lead to rapid algae growth—an unwelcome visitor in any drinking water source. 

If chemical contaminants—including calcium and magnesium, which create hard water—are a concern in your home, consider installing a Rayne water softener or explore a portable exchange tank solution. 

#3 Biological Contaminants

Biological contaminants are living organisms that may take up residence in drinking water.9 Also commonly called microorganisms or microbiological contaminants, they can create a variety of health risks. Some biological contaminants can make you very sick. Examples of these contaminants include:

  • Bacteria – Not all bacteria are dangerous, but some potential contaminants like E. coli can cause severe illness.
  • Viruses – Water-borne viruses include hepatitis A, norovirus (a virus that can cause vomiting and diarrhea), and adenovirus (which can cause a variety of illnesses).12
  • Protozoa – Some protozoa (like Cryptosporidium) can cause significant illness.
  • Parasites – Parasites can cause a variety of infections, including giardiasis, one of the most common water-borne diseases in the US.13

#4 Radiological Contaminants

Radiologic contamination is caused by unstable elements like plutonium, uranium, and cesium. These can emit ionizing radiation.9 As you can imagine, radiation can create a variety of hazards, from household material degradation to physical illness.

You can rest assured knowing that radiological contaminants are very well-regulated by a variety of natural resource and public health authorities across the US, including the Environmental Protection Agency. If you believe that your water is contaminated with radioactive material, you should seek medical treatment and alert your local utility authorities right away. 

Rayne Water Conditioning: Drink Bakersfield Water with Confidence

Bakersfield water comes from a variety of sources, all of which are susceptible to a variety of contaminants. While not all contaminants in “clean drinking water” create health risks, it’s important to monitor the water quality in your home, business, manufacturing facility, or farm carefully.

For those who seek peace of mind and more control over their water content, Rayne Water Conditioning is here to help. Since 1928, we’ve been supplying families, businesses, factories, and farms with water quality solutions that meet their needs. 

Our experts can help you find the perfect solution for your water quality woes at home or at work. 

Sometimes, you simply can’t take risks with your water quality. When you’re ready to transform your tap water for the better, contact us for a free consultation.

Find a location near you!

 

Sources: 

  1. California Water Service. District Information: Bakersfield. https://www.calwater.com/district-information/?dist=bk 
  2. Water Association of Kern County. Water in Kern County. https://www.wakc.com/water-overview/kern-county/ 
  3. US Department of the Interior. Groundwater Wells. https://www.usgs.gov/special-topics/water-science-school/science/groundwater-wells 
  4. California Department of Water Resources. State Water Project. https://water.ca.gov/Programs/State-Water-Project 
  5. National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. Kern River, California. https://www.rivers.gov/rivers/kern.php 
  6. US Bureau of Reclamation. Central Valley Project. https://www.usbr.gov/mp/cvp/ 
  7. Water Education Foundation. Friant-Kern Canal. https://www.watereducation.org/aquapedia/friant-kern-canal 
  8. Water Education Foundation. Central Valley Project.  https://www.watereducation.org/aquapedia/central-valley-project
  9. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Types of Drinking Water Contaminants. https://www.epa.gov/ccl/types-drinking-water-contaminants 
  10. US Department of the Interior. Hardness of Water. https://www.usgs.gov/special-topics/water-science-school/science/hardness-water#overview 
  11. US Environmental Protection Agency. Nutrient Pollution. https://www.epa.gov/nutrientpollution/issue 
  12. National Library of Medicine. Waterborne Viruses: A Barrier to Safe Drinking Water. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4482390/ 
  13. Mayo Clinic. Giardia Infection (Giardiasis). https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/giardia-infection/symptoms-causes/syc-20372786
  14. “Upper Kern River
    Sequoia National Forest.” USDA. https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/sequoia/recreation/?cid=fsbdev3_059082