By Tina Fisher Cunningham
Fisher Forde Media 

Strategic plan: Water district defines its future

The Forde Files No. 180


December 8, 2018

Tina Fisher Cunningham

The Tehachapi-Cummings County Water District natural gas-driven pumps at pump plant No. 1, the first of five stations that elevate State Water Project water 3,425 feet from the California aqueduct at the south end of the Joaquin Valley through Tejon Ranch property, Stallion Springs and Cummings Valley to the district's Jacobsen Reservoir (Brite Lake).

The Tehachapi-Cummings County Water District is finalizing a strategic plan that will be a blueprint for successive generations of administrators of the public wholesale water agency.

"When the board hired me, one of our goals was to establish a guide for budgeting and operations," District Manager Tom Neisler said. "We wanted to prepare a plan for our successors. We want people who follow to know what we were thinking."

Neisler presented the document – the result of four public workshops with the district management and board of directors – in draft form to the board on Nov. 20. It is scheduled for approval following revisions at the Dec. 19 board meeting.

"It will become a public document, the basis for planning going forward," Neisler said. "It will be dynamic and will be reviewed annually or perhaps biannually."

The plan will enable the district, which was established in 1966, to adapt to the unpredictable water supply in California.

"There is no such thing as an average year," Neisler said. "It constantly changes."

It's not just the Sierra snowpack that changes. Environmental regulations are stricter, water quality standards are more rigorous and everything gets more expensive.

"We have to balance the variables to better serve our customers."

Many of the district employees have worked there for decades. The document says the average age of the staff is more than 50, and benefits allow for early retirement, presenting the problem of an aging workforce. "Succession planning critical," the document says. "[With]training and hiring with succession as a key goal."

The most vulnerable resource is water supply. The district's established goal is to import 10,000-acre-feet a year. The district has contracts with the State Water Project to import annually 15,000-acre-feet of Municipal & Industrial water and 4,300-acre-feet of agricultural water (This year the district's allocation was 35 percent). Those contracts expire in 2035 and are being renegotiated. The district banks water underground in three adjudicated basins – Tehachapi, Brite and Cummings valleys.

"We sell more water than we take out of the ground – one-half imported and one-half native," Neisler said.

Much wheeling and dealing with other water districts goes on under the jurisdiction of the Kern County Water Agency to access more water, Neisler said. "It's a good cooperative system."

The district has managed its groundwater basins so well that the it was exempted from California's Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which imposes new regulations to limit over-extraction. Twenty-nine previously adjudicated basins of 515 statewide were exempted; of that 29, three are those managed by the Tehachapi-Cummings County Water District.

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The strategic plan includes sections on the pumping system and pipeline, Jacobsen Reservoir (Brite Lake), technical infrastructure data and a capital improvement plan.

The Tehachapi-Cummings County Water District board of directors meets at district headquarters at Jacobsen Reservoir, 22901 Banducci Road in Tehachapi on the third Wednesdays at 3 p.m.

Tina Fisher Cunningham

Jacobsen Reservoir.


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