The drought continues to impact the residents of Kern County

July 18, 2022 /

According to the National Integrated Drought Information System, there are 839,631 residents in Kern County that are affected by the drought with 7,500 public water systems state wide and 3,000 of them are community water systems. 

Bakersfield is on stage 2 for water shortage. Each stage has additional water restrictions for residents as the water shortage stage increases. Stage 2 restricts outdoor landscape water limits, no watering landscapes 48 hours after it rains, washing cars with shut off nozzles, and driveways and waters may not be watered unless for health purposes. There are a total of four stages which are:

  • stage 1: drought alert as moderate
  • stage 2: drought warning as severe
  • stage 3: regional supply shortage as extreme 
  • stage 4: water supply crisis as critical

As of May of 2022, residents are using 150.6 gallons of water per person per day compared to the city of Los Angeles with higher water restrictions they are using 60 gallons of water per person per day, and compared to Los Osos they are using 30 to 40 gallons of water per person per day.

People are seeing more drought awareness now due to a lot of cumulative impacts over the years. Based on the drought history of the last two decades, the drought has become a new norm for Kern County residents.

“Kern county in particular does not have a lot of lakes and streams and it is pretty dry as it is. There is not a whole lot going on. Most of the water is imported from other areas and so when it comes to rivers, lakes, and streams there is not a huge impact, but after a second year rivers and lakes start to get impacted, after a third year the groundwater supplies starts to get really impacted,” said Eric Zuniga, Drought Response Program Manager.

Graphic 1: Drought history in Kern County for the past two decades (D0: abnormally dry, D1: moderate drought, D2: severe drought, D3: extreme drought, D4: exceptional drought).

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the longest drought since 2001 has been from 2011 – 2017. Today Kern County is in the 3rd driest year. The first driest year in 2020 some streams were a bit lower than normal, but groundwater levels still had a lot of good years. Now that Kern County is in the third dry year, the impacts of groundwater start to become lower.


Reservoirs hold water for residents from rainy days, but now that the drought is an exceptional drought those reservoirs are starting to run out of water supply. 

In Kern County, 48% of rivers are flowing below normal in California and only 10% of those lakes and streams are above normal.


There are stages of water storage for large water systems that are serving more than 3,000 customers. With Bakersfield being on stage 2 for water shortage, residents must follow restrictions to cut back on water usage.

“Last drought there was a lot of agriculture and public drilling new wells because their existing wells were going dry, and they needed the extra water, and by doing that, it caused land subsidence,” said Zuniga. “Therefore, the land shrunk down to the ground because of all the water that was taken out and other folks went dry that could not afford to make their wells deeper. The people that could pull the water out pulled all the water out so that no one else could have access to it, and that is what we are trying to help with here.” 


In the long run, weather is difficult to predict, but communities must always be prepared for droughts. 

“There has been a study on tree rings that indicate from 2001 to 2022 that 2022 is the driest period since at least 800AD, which was when vikings sailed and mayans built temples. All this to indicate that we are in an unprecedented drought territory, and we do not really have the ability to read the weather for about a week or month,” said Zuniga.


Drought tends to be a way of life for California and these droughts are getting longer over time, and people need to make long term adjustments in order to meet drought conditions head on in the coming years because residents have to plan as if the drought is going to continue and then hope that it does not. 

“Drought is here to stay and it is quickly becoming a way of life for all Californians. People do not have to drive far on the 10 and 80 to states like Nevada and Arizona who have been living in drought type desert conditions for a very long time, and if you look at their lawns their lawns look like the amount of water that they have available,” said Zuniga.

Some lawns in California do not appear to match what supply conditions are saying that are available for California. Overtime lawns in California will start to look more like those in Nevada and Arizona to reflect what water is actually coming towards.

Using recycled water can help in droughts. Orange county has been recycling water for decades. Doing a lot of man reduction long term requires tolerant landscaping, turf replacement, to use less water over time. 

Graphic 2: On the right side is the drought classification on July 16, 2002 and on the left is the drought classification on July 5, 2022.

In southern California there are a lot of groundwater recharge projects where water in wet years is being placed into the ground so that it is available to be taken out in dry years and that is typically a multiyear supply. 

“It takes much longer for Southern California to experience drought the same way it does in Northern California because Northern California relies a lot more on rivers and lakes and southern and central California relies a lot more on groundwater,” said Zuniga.

One approach to improve drought in the long run would be to increase supply. Buying more imported water from other places, building new wells, these are ways to increase the source of supply. On the other side, it is reducing what is being used, since a leaking water system will come out and reduce supply. Both are needed to increase supply. A mind for how many wells are needed and how many resources are needed is important as well as the sustainability of that aquifer in the long term. 

Other approaches would be:

  • Consulting small individual well owners to build reliability 
  • Funding for folks to get new wells and deeper wells.
  • Conserve groundwater
  • Residents to use recycled water

There are some short term projects that are implemented to increase the supply of water which would be building additional storage to give wells an opportunity to recover overnight, drilling new wells, and emergency connection to a nearby water source. 

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Erica Murillo

Erica Murillo is a project coordinator and reporter at South Kern Sol. She was born in Bakersfield, California, and her origin is from Guanajuato, Mexico. She is a first-generation graduate from California State University, Bakersfield where she earned a degree in Liberal Studies with a minor in English. Murillo's first job was working in the fields picking grapes. She has been able to evolve and continue to grow within her career. She can be reached at