With a river running through the heart of Bakersfield even on the cusp of fall, it may be hard to remember but the fight to keep that water flowing continues.
I’m talking about the “forfeited water,” still out there, still forfeited.
For background, it had long been thought that all the Kern River’s waters were spoken for by various municipal and agricultural interests.
So, even in average water years, the river through town was dry.
Then in 2007, after a protracted lawsuit, a judge found the Kern Delta Water District hadn’t been using all its rights to the Kern and was forced to forfeit about 50,000 acre-feet. (That’s a lotta water.)
Instead of deciding who should get that water, the judge tossed the question of whether there was water up for grabs and, if so, who should get it, to the state Water Resources Control Board.
In 2010, the board found there was “loose” water on the Kern and several entities applied to get that water.
Only the City of Bakersfield vowed to run the water down the river, which is why I’ve long supported the city’s stance on this water.
The other entities that applied for the water, Kern Water Bank, Kern County Water Agency, Buena Vista Water Storage District and North Kern Water Storage District along with the City of Shafter, all wrote that they would use if for ag and/or municipal uses.
Meaning, our river bed would continue to be just that — a river bed.
OK, so that was 2010, seven years ago.
What’s happened since?
Unfortunately not much.
Bakersfield put together an environmental impact report, or EIR, on how it would use the forfeited 50,000 acre-feet to restore the river through town, recharging the groundwater while providing recreation and environmental benefits as well.
Sounds like a win, win, win to me.
Others saw it differently.
North Kern, the district that started the ball rolling toward getting the water declared forfeit when it sued Kern Delta back in the late ’90s, in particular didn’t like the city’s plan.
It sued over the river restoration EIR.
A judge found one portion of the document lacking and kicked it back to the city, which redid the document, recirculated it and North Kern sued again.
That is set for trial in Visalia starting Sept. 13.
Meanwhile, the state Water Resources Control Board, which has jurisdiction over deciding the Kern’s fate, hasn’t made any moves.
I’d be annoyed at that kind of glacial “speed,” but I have to admit the board’s been busy.
It took over the drinking water department previously overseen by State Public Health Services, then we staggered into an epic five-year drought, and, oh yeah, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act was passed in 2014.
So, the board’s been a tad busy.
And Bakersfield hasn’t been pushy on the issue, wanting to get an EIR cleared and ready to present to the board before the process starts up again.
Years ago, I said this would be a marathon, not a sprint.
That’s proven to be truer than even I had anticipated.
To the more than 4,000 Bakersfield residents (including the late Merle Haggard) who wrote to the Water Resources Control Board back in 2010 pleading to have our river back, and the hundreds of folks who doggedly show up at city council meetings when this comes up, I say — Keep the faith!
We will get our river back.