Diversion plan holds as Isabella rises

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Diversion plan holds as Isabella risesA resurgence of water in Lake Isabella has been a welcome sight to many who have watched levels plummet during the last few years of California’s historic drought. But that abundance of water has been accompanied by expressions of water- and dam-related safety concerns from the public.

Army Corps of Engineers officials estimate the north and south forks of the Kern River are feeding into Lake Isabella at a rate of 7,500 cubic feet per second. To give perspective to this staggering number, it amounts to 15,000 acre feet in a single day —more water than residential users of the Indian Wells Valley consume in an entire year.

However, ACE Deputy Chief of Public Affairs Tyler Stalker reaffirmed that appropriate measures are in place to mitigate the influx of water.

Lake Isabella currently stands at approximately 352,651 acre feet of water — nearing its restricted pool capacity of 361,250 acre feet, he said.

That restriction is just one of the measures that help keep the main and auxiliary dams safe and operational. “Much like our flood-storage space when there is not a pool restriction in place, this is not a hard line. In fact, this is not our first time approaching the restricted pool level.”

Conditions in 2011 resulted in an excess of that capacity for a period of nine days, said Stalker.

To offset current inflow, engineers are releasing approximately 5,300 cubic feet per second, which is consistent with the outflow of the last few months.

“The water is being released down the Kern River through Bakersfield,” he said. “The downstream channels are handling the current flows, and we do not anticipate increasing downstream flows.”

He added that ACE does not anticipate exceeding capacity this year, although the district has approved a request for short-term storage above that restricted pool if it becomes necessary.

“The influx of snowmelt runoff has had little to no effect on our dam safety modification project,” said Stalker.

“While the increased water levels in the reservoir have contributed to delayed construction of the temporary French Gulch boat launch, we are still on track to have this facility installed prior to the closure of Boat Launch 19 as promised.

“Overall, there has been no change to our project schedule as a result of higher water levels.”

However, the Kern River Ranger District of the U.S. Forest Service has been proactive in collaborating with local emergency response agencies to raise awareness of the current risks.

“It is our goal for Kern River Valley visitors to make water safety a priority,” said Deputy District Ranger Philip DeSenze.

“We welcome visitors to the beautiful Kern River, but we sincerely ask that you not underestimate the power of moving water,” said Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux. “Always be mindful of your surroundings and exercise sound judgment while enjoying our waterways.”

Several drowning deaths have already been reported in the central valley. In addition to those that have been overcome by the waters, this year’s runoff carries with it the additional risk of cold-water-triggered cardiac arrest.

For additional information see also news-ridgecrest.com/news/ story.pl?id=0000007077.

Pictured: Runoff from winter storms restores Lake Isabella’s sparkling blue-green waters to their highest levels since 2011. -- Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2017-06-23