WHEELER RIDGE-MARICOPA WATER STORAGE DISTRICT
The Wheeler Ridge-Maricopa Water Storage District (“District”) is a public agency whose jurisdiction encompasses about 147,000 acres (230 square miles) of land in Kern County, California, at the extreme southern end of the San Joaquin Valley south of Bakersfield. The District provides water supplies to about 90,000 acres of farmland within its boundaries. The District is governed by an elected nine member Board of Directors, and operated by a staff of 43 employees. The 2016 budget totals approximately $95.8 million to pay for facilities and operation of the State Water Project, various water banking projects, and the District’s water distribution system.
The District was formed on August 11, 1959 under California Water Storage District law for the purpose of securing a surface water supply for agricultural purposes from the Feather River Project (now the State Water Project). The District’s Project, including authority to execute a water supply contract for State Water Project supplies, and construct a water distribution system, was approved by the District’s landowners at an election on November 14, 1967.
Surface water deliveries began in 1970. Over 7 million acre-feet of untreated surface water supplies have been delivered to farms within the District. A small percentage of the water is supplied on a temporary basis for industrial, ground water recharge, and in-lieu of ground water pumping purposes. The District provides no water treatment. All water delivered is in a raw untreated condition and is not suitable for human consumption without treatment.
Except in drought years, the District’s Project has negated the need for ground water pumping within the District’s service area, and also allowed lands not previously irrigated to be productively farmed. Consequently, the decline of ground water levels within the District has been halted, and some recovery has occurred. Per studies commissioned by the District in the mid-1990s:
“Importation of SWP water under the District’s Project has resulted in elimination of the ground water overdraft and caused ground water pumping lifts to be significantly less than they would have been without the Project…Ground water levels have increased by as much as 320 feet in one area [but] have been generally on the order of 50 to 100 feet since the early 1970s…Absent the District’s Project and based on historical cropping patterns, it is projected that 1994 ground water levels in certain portions of the District would have been as much as 290 feet below 1971 water levels.” [Ground Water Studies – Phase III Report, May 1996]
Most of the District’s water supply is obtained via the California Aqueduct from the State Water Project under contract with the Kern County Water Agency. This 197,088 acre-feet supply is allocated and distributed to 72,074 acres of farm lands within the District’s Surface Water Service Area under the terms of recorded long-term agricultural water service contracts. Current District facilities can also provide temporary water service to about 18,000 acres of additional farm lands. An additional 20,000 acres of farm lands and 10,000 acres of other developed lands rely primarily on ground water supplies. Another 27,000 acres are undeveloped and used primarily for grazing. Except for a few locations along Interstate 5, the District is exclusively rural. There are no cities or towns within the District’s boundaries.
In the 1990’s, the District’s State Water Project supply became increasingly unreliable. Therefore, the District secured additional dry year water supplies for its landowners from the Kern Water Bank, Pioneer Project, Berrenda Mesa Project, new District wells, and Blanca Rosa Improvement District. Additional water supply reliability and cost reliability were also secured through the Monterey Amendments to the State Water Project contracts.
The District owns and operates a distribution system of nearly 300 miles of pipelines, 137 booster pumps, 6 wells, and 7 miles of concrete-lined canal. Depending on land leasing patterns in a given year, the District serves between 100 and 150 customers.
Most of the land within the District slopes to the north. Elevations range from 295 feet above sea level at its northwesterly boundary to 1,865 feet at its eastern boundary. Access is obtained via State Route 99 and Interstate 5 highways in the north-south direction, and State Route 166 (Maricopa Highway) in the east-west direction. The Governor Edmund G. Brown California Aqueduct extends southeasterly through the District for about 34 miles.
The District experiences a semi-arid climate. The growing season is among the longest in the San Joaquin Valley, averaging about 300 days above 32 degrees Fahrenheit and almost 365 days above 28 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit about 110 days per year. The average precipitation of about 7 inches per year falls almost entirely in the winter and spring.
About 97% of the land within the District is irrigable, with 90% of the soils within the Surface Water Service Area classified as having wide crop adaptability with no limitations. A wide variety of crops are grown. Crops with a total acreage of over 1,000 acres within the District are cotton, safflower, wheat, alfalfa, carrots, lettuce, melons, onions, peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, wine and table grapes, almonds, pistachios, lemons, and oranges. Among other crops grown are asparagus, walnuts, plums, and grapefruit.
State Water Allocation: 70 % (as of March 20, 2019)