Getting water from an electric utility that doesn’t even serve your city may seem confusing, unless you consider the fact that SCE uses water that flows from Lake Isabella, 45 miles up the Kern River, to run two of its hydroelectric power plants.
So this year, instead of using all of the water its entitled to for power generation, SCE agreed to store some of it — 1.5 billion gallons, to be exact — in order to ensure its neighbors in Bakersfield can make it through the dry summer months of July, August and September.
“Right now, we’re using water that SCE would have used to generate power during the spring,” said Art Chianello, water resources manager for the city of Bakersfield. “This agreement to store water in Lake Isabella is allowing us to use the water at maximum efficiency during peak summer months.”
Overall, Bakersfield supplies its residents and businesses with 37.4 billion gallons of water annually. The freshwater SCE is providing the city under the plan is enough to supply more than 4,700 homes for a year. In return for storing the water, the city pays SCE for the power the water could have generated.
Chianello said the arrangement was more economical for the city, which would have had to rely on less efficient sources, such as pumping groundwater or purchasing water from water exchanges, to make up what the city was lacking because of the drought.
This type of agreement has been used by SCE with Bakersfield and other Kern River interests in the past, but it is particularly helpful to the city this year as California feels the effects of an extended drought.
It was also among a number of creative drought mitigation measures presented by Veronica Gutierrez, SCE vice president of Local Public Affairs, at a recent California Public Utilities Commission workshop that addressed the state’s drought in the context of the “water-energy nexus,” or the interdependence of water and energy.
“Twenty percent of California's water is used to produce energy, and 19 percent of California's energy is used to move, store and treat water," Gutierrez said. "So saving water saves energy and saving energy saves water. That’s why SCE's role in bringing creative solutions like this agreement with the city of Bakersfield to the table is critical."
During the workshop, Gutierrez also highlighted other company innovations that make use of the interrelationship between water and energy to help lessen the impact of the drought, including a pilot program to help water utilities detect leaks in their systems, energy-saving programs that help drought-impacted farmers in the San Joaquin Valley and the use of recycled and wastewater in the cooling tower of SCE’s Mountainveiw Generating Station.