The Kern River alluvial fan is the southernmost major alluvial fan built by the streams which drain the west side of the Sierra Nevada. The climate is semiarid with rainfall near 5 inches per year. Agricultural development within the area uses over half the 700,000 acre-feet per year flow of the Kern River, plus a considerable amount drawn from the ground-water reservoir particularly during periods of low flow.
The area overlies a deep structural trough between crystalline rocks of the Sierra Nevada and the marine rocks of Tertiary age of the Coast Ranges. The top horizon of the marine rocks that lap on the Sierra Nevada block underlies the report area at an average depth of 2,000 feet. The overlying continental deposits that form the groundwater reservoir consist of alluvial-fan and lacustrine deposits.
The continental deposits are subdivided into three lithologic units on the basis of grain size and sorting. The gravel and clay unit consists of older alluvial-fan material, of both Sierra Nevada and Coast Range provenance, that shows extremely poor sorting with some diagenetic decomposition through chemical weathering. The fine sand to clay unit consists principally of fine sand, silt, and clay deposited in a lacustrine environment, although some of the unit is of alluvial-fan origin derived from poorly consolidated marine shale of the Coast Ranges. Within the fine sand to clay unit three distinct clays, which affect ground-water conditions, can be recognized. The gravel to medium sand unit consists of unweathered alluvial-fan material that shows much better sorting than the gravel and clay unit. In the eastern part of the area the basal part of this unit is a gravel lentil that can be traced in the subsurface more than 250 square miles. The overlying deposits consist principally of medium sand. In the western part of the area the unit is a heterogeneous gravel and sand unit. Permeability in Meinzer units of the gravel and clay unit ranges between 10 and 100 with specific yield about 5 percent. For the fine sand to clay unit the permeability ranges between 0.0001 and 100 with about 10 percent specific yield. The gravel to medium sand unit has permeabilities between 100 and 10,000, and specific yield is about 15 percent.
For the period 1955-59 the annual gross surface-water supply was estimated at 421,000 acre-feet and pumpage was 664,000 acre-feet, giving a rounded total supply of 1,100,000 acre-feet. Annual consumptive use was estimated at 750,000 acre-feet and annual infiltration at 350,000 acre-feet. The approximate 300,000 acre-feet difference between 664,000 acre-feet pumped and 350,000 acre-feet infiltrated has caused an annual decline in water levels of up to 7 feet.
Ground water occurs under both unconfined and confined conditions within the report area. In general, the gravel to medium sand unit contains unconfined water, and the other two units contain confined water.
Pumping is less intense in the Kern River fan area than in the adjoining areas to the north or south. This fact, plus infiltration from the Kern River, results in ground-water movement being principally out of the area. There is a ground-water divide that approximately underlies the Kern River. South of the river the flow spreads out semicircularly from the river, and north of the river the flow is linear to the northwest.
Based on chemical quality the ground water has been divided areally into (1) east side, (2) west side, and (3) axial water.
With the exception of two areas of comparable size northwest of Bakersfield and a much smaller area southeast of that city where ground water is somewhat saline, east-side ground water is generally of the calcium bicarbonate and calcium sodium bicarbonate type of low to medium salinity. The chemical character of east-side ground water is necessarily related to that of Kern River water, the principal source of recharge, and water of intermittent streams which drain the dissected upland
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Ground-Water Geology and Hydrology of the Kern River Alluvial-Fan Area, California