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The History of the Shafter-Wasco Irrigation District

The Shafter-Wasco Irrigation District, located in California, has a rich history of transforming arid lands into flourishing agricultural areas. This blog post delves into the district’s past, highlighting the challenges faced by early settlers, the implementation of innovative irrigation methods, and the quest for a reliable water supply. We will explore the district’s formation, its collaboration with other water storage districts, and its ongoing efforts to achieve sustainable groundwater management.
Early Settlement and Irrigation Challenges:
Before 1907, the lands within the Shafter-Wasco District were predominantly owned by a large land company and primarily used for grazing. Harsh climatic conditions, such as marshy winters and scarce potable water in summers, deterred most travelers from the area. However, in 1907, a group of four hundred farm families from across the United States settled in the region through the efforts of the California Home Extension. They recognized the need for irrigation due to the long, dry, hot summers and minimal rainfall of 6.53 inches.
Groundwater Pumping and Declining Water Table:
To address the need for irrigation, the district became one of the first areas in California to rely entirely on pump irrigation. The use of pumps led to a gradual decline in the groundwater table, averaging 2.3 feet per year between 1921 and 1949. This decline was mainly caused by an increasing number of pumps serving more significant irrigated acreage. It became clear that alternative water sources were necessary to sustain agricultural activities.
Formation of the Shafter-Wasco Irrigation District:
In September 1937, local farmers from the Shafter and Wasco areas organized the Shafter-Wasco Irrigation District to address the dwindling groundwater supplies. Seeking legal advice, they established the district to find solutions to the region’s water needs. The district’s initial attempts at groundwater replenishment through percolation ponds proved uneconomical due to silting and sealing problems.
Friant Dam and Water Supply Possibilities:
With the construction of the Friant Dam in 1939, the district saw the potential for a future water source. However, in 1941, there was a movement advocating for the dissolution of the district. Despite a majority vote in favor of dissolution, the Superior Court of Kern County ruled that the district must continue its operations, ensuring the pursuit of sustainable water solutions.
Partnership with the Bureau of Reclamation:
In 1946, the district formally applied to the Bureau of Reclamation for water supply from the Friant-Kern Canal. This led to the execution of a water service contract in 1955, securing 50,000 acre-feet of Class I water and 39,600 acre-feet of Class II water for the district. Over the years, the district entered into various interim renewal contracts, and in 2010, it converted its repayment contract to a permanent repayment contract, securing permanent water rights.
Collaboration for Water Exchange and Groundwater Banking:
The district collaborated with the North Kern Water Storage District and Semitropic Water Storage District to further enhance water supply reliability. Interconnection facilities were established, allowing for groundwater banking and water exchange agreements between the districts. These agreements aimed to utilize surface water in above-average water years and replenish the groundwater for sustained agricultural activities.
Sustainable Groundwater Management and Recharge Projects:
With the enactment of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014, the district actively participated in managing groundwater sustainably within its basin. In 2015, the SWID Recharge Project was implemented to help achieve sustainable groundwater levels and prevent adverse environmental and economic consequences.
The history of the Shafter-Wasco Irrigation District showcases a remarkable journey from arid grazing lands to a thriving agricultural community. Through the collective efforts of early settlers, innovative irrigation practices, and strategic collaborations with other water storage districts, the district has overcome numerous challenges to secure a reliable water supply. With a commitment to sustainable groundwater management and the implementation of recharge projects, the district continues to adapt to changing dynamics and ensure a prosperous future for its agricultural endeavors. As an independent agency governed by dedicated individuals, the Shafter-Wasco Irrigation District remains steadfast in its mission to sustainably steward the region’s water resources and support the vibrant agricultural community it serves.