ENVIRO DOCS: A look at the Friant Kern Canal Middle Reach Capacity Correction Project

  • Project: Friant Kern Canal Middle Reach Capacity Correction Project to repair a 33-mile section of the Friant-Kern Canal between Milepost 88.2 in Tulare County and Milepost 121.5 in Kern County
  • Documents: Draft Environmental Impact Statement, available here.
  • Comments due:  By 5 p.m. on June 22.  Email to: FKCProjectComments@stantec.com
  • Online public meeting: June 8 from 5:30pm to 7:30pm, register here.

On May 8, the Bureau of Reclamation and Friant Water Authority released a draft environmental impact statement/environmental impact report for the project to repair a 33-mile stretch of the Friant-Kern Canal in the eastern San Joaquin Valley which has been damaged by subsidence.  This has reduced capacity of the canal, resulting in a reduction of water deliveries of up to 300,000 acre-feet in certain water years.  The Friant Kern Canal Middle Reach Capacity Correction Project would restore capacity from the current estimated 1,600 cfs to the original design capacity of 4,000 cfs.

The release of the documents starts a public comment period that will end at 5 p.m. on June 22.  The Bureau of Reclamation and the Friant Water Authority will host an online public meeting on June 8 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. to collect public comments. 

This post is based on a ‘dry run’ of the public meeting.


On the map on the right, the location of Friant Dam and Millerton Lake is circled.  The Madera Canal runs from Friant Dam north for about 40 miles, ending at the Chowchilla River, east of Chowchilla. The dark line shown on the map going south from Friant Dam is the Friant Kern Canal which extends 152 miles to Bakersfield. 

The Friant Kern Canal runs on the southeastern side of the area affected by subsidence, which is shown in the colors on the map.  The orange colors show location of the deepest and most significant subsidence while the blue represents the least amount of subsidence; the areas shown in gray are the contractors that receive surface supplies from the Friant Division.

Subsidence is the sinking of the ground generally caused by groundwater overdraft.  During the 2013-17 drought, there was a significant increase in groundwater pumping due to reductions in surface water deliveries as farmers turned to groundwater to meet their irrigation demands. 

Between 2015 and 2016 and actually in 2017 and part of 2018, we saw about an inch of subsidence per month on the Friant Kern Canal,” said Adam Nickels, Deputy Program Manager for the San Joaquin River Restoration Program.  “The Friant Kern Canal has continued to subside though at slightly slower rates than 1 inch per month.  This has contributed to over 50% of the design capacity being impacted in the middle reach of the Friant Kern Canal.

The map shows the project area, which is a 33-mile segment of the middle reach of the Friant-Kern Canal between Milepost 88.2 in Tulare County and Milepost 121.5 in Kern County, passing through the community of Strathmore and the city of Porterville.  The green areas on the map are the water districts which receive surface water from the Friant-Kern Canal. 

The areas shown in white are also farmed and irrigated, but they largely receive their water from groundwater pumping, which also coincides with the deepest level of subsidence due to the significant reliance on groundwater for irrigation purposes.

The graph on the bottom left shows the extent of the problem.  The two straight lines show the profile of the Friant-Kern Canal as originally designed and built by the Bureau of Reclamation; the two squiggly lines represent the Friant Kern Canal’s top and bottom as of 2018.  This graph shows the profile from 5th Avenue to the Kern River.  The most subsided area of the canal is near the Deer Creek check area where the deep bowl of subsidence is reducing the ability of the canal to deliver water south to Kern County.

The map on the upper right shows another view of the subsidence.  On the map, the project area is broken into segments 1 through 4.  Segments 3 and 4 are the areas with the most reduced capacity.

Segment 3 was designed to convey 4,000 cfs, but as of 2017, it is only able to convey 1700 cfs, which is much less than half its designed and constructed capacity.  Segment 4 was designed to convey 3500 cfs; it could only covey a little under half of that capacity in 2017. 

The canal has continued to subside in 2018 and 2019 and now into 2020,” said Adam Nickels.  “We believe that there’s an additional 200 cfs capacity each segment that’s been impacted by subsidence on the Friant Kern Canal.”


The purpose of Friant Kern Canal Middle Reach Capacity Correction Project is to restore the conveyance capacity of the Canal to its original design and constructed capacity and to provide operational flexibility and operational storage at Millerton Dam.

The objectives of the project are:

  • Restore capacity to original designed and constructed levels that meet the water supply delivery requirements of the CVP contracts of long-term contractors;
  • Restore capacity to convey water for the short-term conveyance of flood flows or non-CVP project water as well as provide potential surface water supplies for other users through exchanges and transfers;
  • Facilitate accommodation of potential future reductions in conveyance capacity caused by anticipated continued subsidence following Project implementation by designing and maintaining the restored capacity for a service life of at least 50 years; and
  • Restore capacity to the maximum extent using the original gravity conveyance design that avoids reliance on additional mechanical facilities and increased energy demands.


There are three project alternatives: a No Project, No Action Alternative, which Mr. Nickels noted was not a no-impact alternative; a Canal Enlargement and Realignment Alternative; and a Canal Enlargement Alternative.  For the purposes of CEQA, the Canal Enlargement and Realignment Alternative is the proposed project; for the purposes of NEPA, the Bureau does not have a preferred or selected alternative.

No Project, No Action Alternative

If the No Project No Action is the selected alternative, there will continue to be decreases in Friant water supply deliveries as a result of the San Joaquin River Restoration program implementing its full project water allocation by around 2025.  This will result in less water being available for Friant contractors as more water will be made available for the restoration program activities.

The canal will continue to subside, resulting in less surface water being able to be delivered to the deliveries past the pinch point to the southern end of canal.  As groundwater basins are brought into compliance will SGMA, less surface water will make achieving sustainable groundwater basins more difficult, and would result in a further reduction in groundwater pumping land use changes that may result in fallowing of productive farmland.

Mr. Nickels said that in order for Friant contractors to minimize their delivery impacts, they would likely carryover water longer in Millerton, but the models show that by doing that, it would actually result in spills of Friant contract water into the San Joaquin River.

Canal Enlargement and Realignment Alternative

The Canal Enlargement and Realignment Alternative is the proposed action for the purposes of CEQA.  With this alternative, 13 miles of the existing Friant Kern Canal would be raised and 20 miles will be realigned and rebuilt directly to the east of the existing canal.

For the portions that will be raised, they will simply add dirt on top to raise the embankment and the liner.

For the portion that will be realigned, a new canal will be constructed to the east of the existing Friant Kern Canal.  Portions of the existing would then be utilized as right of way for its new eastern embankment.  The new western embankment would be the old eastern embankment of the Friant Kern Canal and the new eastern embankment would be made from portions of western embankment of the old Friant Kern Canal.

Canal Enlargement Alternative

The canal enlargement alternative also raises 13 miles of the existing Friant-Kern Canal, but rather than realigning the 20 mile segment, it would instead be widened and raised.  There are also four total miles of bypass canal segments east of the Friant Kern Canal that will help accommodate for pumping turnouts and road crossings.

Features common to both alternatives

Features common to both alternatives:

Some turnouts will need to be modified, new turnouts may need to be developed, and it may be necessary to raise the deck of some of the turnouts so they can take advantage of the higher Kern Canal.

Some road crossings can be left in place; in other places, new trapezoidal bridges may need to be constructed or they may simply build underneath the roads by installing concrete box siphons. 

There are five check structures in the middle reach; two will need to be reconstructed, regardless of the chosen project alternative.

There are utilities that need to be moved and these include overhead power lines, groundwater wells may need to be abated or moved.  There are culvert replacements and extensions and pipeline overcrossings that may need to be extended or moved.

Approximately 144 acres of private land would need to be acquired for the canal enlargement alternative, and approximately 510 acres that need to be acquired for the canal enlargement and realignment alternative.

While more land needs to be acquired for the canal enlargement and realignment alternative, only 2.5 million cubic yards of material is estimated for borrow material needs for the canal enlargement and realignment while inversely, 6 million cubic yards is needed for the canal enlargement alternative.  Three potential borrow sites have been identified.

The project includes environmental commitments for air quality, biological resources, cultural resources, geology and soils, hazards and hazardous materials, land use planning and agricultural resources, and noise, transportation, and utility and service systems, and energy.


An Environmental Assessment/Initial Study was first prepared that provided a preliminary review of the project impacts and based on that review, there were several resources that were eliminated because the impacts were either determined to be less than significant and did not require mitigation, or would not be impacted by the project at all.  The resources that were eliminated from further review based on this preliminary analysis included aesthetics, mineral resources, population and housing, public services, recreation, environmental justice, socioeconomics, Indian trust assets, and Indian sacred sites.  The analysis in the EIS determined that the project could have significant impacts on several other resources, and therefore Reclamation and Friant determined that they needed to prepare an EIS/EIR.

Several impacts that were identified for all of the alternatives:

The No Action Alternative are the future conditions in the absence of the project and is expected to result in a reduction of irrigated agriculture in the project area due to a reduced ability to deliver surface water because its capacity restrictions in the canal coupled with reductions to groundwater use due to implementation of SGMA.  As a result of these conditions, potentially significant impacts are expected to air quality, biological resources, geology and soils, and agriculture land use as it is anticipated that agricultural land in the project area would be fallowed or converted to other uses during the 50 year project period.  Significant impacts are also expected to groundwater due to a reduced capacity to deliver surface water that would be available for groundwater recharge.

For both action or project alternatives, even after implementation of mitigation to reduce potential impacts, it was determined that there would be potentially significant and unavoidable impacts on cultural resources due to the permanent alterations of the Friant Kern Canal which is a historic resource, land use due to the permanent conversion of agricultural land to non-agricultural uses, especially for lands that are considered important farmlands by the Department of Conservation, and transportation in the event that an emergency vehicle is unable to maintain acceptable response times due to road closures expected to occur during construction.

Once the public comment period is complete, all comments will be considered and a final EIS/R prepared that incorporates responses to all the comments.  Once the final document is complete, from that point, each lead agency will go through their own approval process:

Reclamation will release the final environmental document that will designate the preferred alternative and initiate the 30 day waiting period prior to issuing a Record of Decision. 

Friant will make a determination of whether to approve the project and the EIR at a Board meeting, and if approved, would file a Notice of Determination.  At that point, Friant will also adopt a mitigation, monitoring, and reporting program to ensure application of all the mitigation measures that are included in the document. 

Once that process is complete, if both agencies choose to approve the project, it goes on to permitting and project implementation.

The slide shows the anticipated timeline.  The expectation is that the final environmental documents will be released in early fall and that Reclamation and Friant will make their decision on whether to implement the project in October of this year.  Depending on the decision, permitting and project implementation would follow, and the expectation is that those activities would commence sometime in early 2021.

Accessing documents

The documents can be accessed online through the Friant and Reclamation websites.  Hard copies can be reviewed at Friant headquarters by appointment or at the City of Porterville City Clerk’s office. 

Submitting comments

In order for comments to be considered and addressed in the final documents, they must be submitted no later than 5pm on June 22.  You can provide comments during the online public meeting, email your comments to FKCProjectComments@stantec.com or remerson@usbr.gov , or faxed to 559-262-0371.

Comments received by the deadline will be included as part of the public record and will be addressed as part of the final EIS/R.

Online public meeting

A public meeting to receive comments is planned for June 8 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. 

Pre-Registration Required: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/8305010853274552846

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