The Loop Newspaper - Tehachapi's Online Community News & Entertainment Guide

By Liz Block
Water Conservation Coordinator, Tehachapi-Cummings Co Water Dis 

Where does Tehachapi water come from?

Water Matters


Greetings! I’m very excited to be starting a regular column for The Loop, on a topic that matters to us all – Water.

Do you know where your water comes from? The faucet – right! But let’s take a look at the back story, because Tehachapi Valley has already come close to running out of water once upon a time.

The settlement of Tehachapi Valley began in earnest with the completion of the rail line over Tehachapi Pass in 1876. The settlers grazed cattle and sheep and grew dryland grains, and the town supported a thriving mining industry. Farming was limited to where there was water in creeks or holding ponds. That all changed with the drilling of the first large (13 inch diameter) production well in 1910. The groundwater had always been there – what changed? Electricity came to Tehachapi. Just two years later, the town had a public water system supplied from a well.

Agriculture…blossomed. With water available, farmers capitalized on the rich loamy soils of the valley. Conditions were ideal for orchards, and Tehachapi became famous for its apples and pears. More farms drilled more wells and pumped groundwater that had taken a thousand years to accumulate.

Enter the Tehachapi Resource Conservation District, with an eye on the big picture. As early as 1948, they petitioned to conduct a preliminary groundwater survey which raised concerns of a potential water shortage. Groundwater levels continued to drop, and a 1961 Watershed Planning Project delineated in no uncertain terms that our aquifers were badly over-drafted, and groundwater levels had dropped as much as 100 feet in some places. An outside source of water was needed to support continued agricultural production and urban growth, and fortunately, one was available.

Far-sighted community leaders came to the rescue, and in 1965, the Tehachapi-Cummings County Water District (TCCWD) was voted into existence. Within a year, they had contracted to receive water from the State Water Project via the California Aqueduct. TCCWD built a series of pipes and pump houses to transport water up the mountainside 3,425 feet in elevation. Groundwater levels were replenished, growers were supplied directly with irrigation water, and a thriving community grew.

So, do you know where your water comes from? The California Aqueduct – right! But wait, where does the water in the aqueduct come from?

The story grows longer and much more complex. Our water starts out as snowpack and rainfall in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Fast forward down the Feather River, through Lake Oroville, the largest reservoir in the State Water Project, down the Sacramento River, and into the Bay-Delta. This fragile estuary supports endangered fish species, fishermen, farmers, a thriving recreation economy, wildlife habitat, and withdrawals by several water delivery systems. It’s not surprising that management of the Bay-Delta is embroiled in controversy. Fast forward again down 280 miles of California Aqueduct, and up 33 miles of TCCWD pipe.

Today over half of our water comes from snowpack and rainfall in the mountains surrounding Tehachapi Valley. The other half travels an amazing and convoluted 600 miles down mountains and then up the mountain to reach us. Whew! I’m getting tired just thinking about it. Think I’ll go get a glass of water.


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