February 8: The Kern County Planning Department is revising its previous recommendation to approve the Aquahelio Fremont Valley water/solar project that would extract 114,000 acre feet of water per year (37 billion gallons per year) within 8 years. The Planning Commission approved the Aquahelio project by a vote of 3:2 on January 23rd amid much concerns from local water departments and communities. The planning department is now recommending that the Board of Supervisors refer the project “back to staff to revise and recirculate the Environmental Impact Report (EIR)”, according to a Feb 7 memo issued by the Planning Department. Although this does not permanently kill the project, it does raise questions about whether Aquahelio will continue to pursue an application process that has taken years. Click here for the memo from the Planning Department.
The decision by the Planning Department comes amid a “water emergency” issued by Governor Brown, and recent revelations that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) is likely the reduce this year’s allocation of water to zero. Since a cornerstone of the Aquahelio project relied on “water banking” (temporarily storing some water from the LADWP Aqueduct in the Fremont Valley aquifer) to recharge the ground water extracted by Aquahelio, the Governor’s decision to restrict water allocations “calls into question the sufficiency of the project”, said Planning Director Lorelei Oviatt in an interview with the Bakersfield Californian. Since water banking typically requires depositors leave 10 percent of the water they store in the bank, the Planning Department took that 10 percent into account when reviewing Aquahelio’s EIR, Oviatt explained. Click here for the full article.
Locals estimate the Fremont Valley Aquifer’s natural “recharge rate” is historically 15,000 acre feet per year, but nobody knows what the aquifer’s actual rate of recharge or depletion has been since the drought which has lasted in east Kern County for over four years. The Board of Supervisors will hear the case and the Planning Department’s recommendation on February 25th at their normal meeting place at 1115 Truxton Ave in Bakersfield.