Orange Cove, small cities to get Kings River water

Posted by Mark Grossi on February 25, 2014 

A rusty anchor bolt and cable tether a boat dock at Millerton Lake where water levels are dropping.

JOHN WALKER — Fresno Bee Staff Photo Buy Photo

In this epic dry winter, there may be no San Joaquin River water for small east San Joaquin Valley communities this summer. So what water will these folks be drinking?

Kings River water.

The plan is to swap Kings water for San Joaquin restoration water. The restoration water was in Millerton Lake and would have gone down the river this month. 

The exchange is needed because the federal government is projecting there will be zero water for customers this summer. It's desperation time.

For sheer plumbing, this fix for the small communities is amazing.

Here's the setup: Federal leaders stopped the restoration flows this month to save about 12,500 acre-feet of water -- three times more than enough for the small communities relying on the river for drinking water.

Right now, that restoration water is moving daily down the Friant-Kern Canal from Millerton Lake to the Kings River. You can see the Millerton water flowing south in the massive canal.

The Friant-Kern is actually plumbed to go beneath the Kings River. But at the moment, when the water arrives at the King River, water is being diverted out of Friant-Kern into the Fresno Canal.

The Fresno Canal is in the network of Fresno Irrigation District, a 245,000-acre district that includes many farms as well as Fresno and Clovis.

The district is funneling the San Joaquin water to its underground water banks, west of Fresno. The water will soak into the ground.

OK, take a break. Deep breath. Now let's move into the warmer months and tell you how Kings River water will get to the small communities.

FID is working with the Kings River Water Association, representing many farm water agencies, to get Kings water into the Friant-Kern Canal.

Water will be diverted from the Kings into the Gould Canal, which also intersects with the Friant-Kern. Water will be pumped from Gould into the Friant-Kern.

The Friant-Kern runs south, carrying the water to the communities, including Orange CoveLindsay, Strathmore and Terra Bella.

The communities probably won't need more than about 4,000 acre-feet of water, which is not a huge amount. But that water would be missed by the farmers who would usually buy it.

So from the underground water banks, FID will pump up the exact amount used by the small communities. The banked water will be sent out to farmers through the FID network.

FID manager Gary Serrato was the master mind behind this plan. He says 10% of the San Joaquin water in the FID water banks will remain in the ground.

Serrato adds that this was an important exercise because people need the water.

"It was the right thing to do," he said.

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