Occasionally we read about our community’s comparatively low education levels and the lack of good high-paying jobs that require a higher education. Seldom is the connection drawn between these related facts and the social and cultural environment where we ask likely candidates to live.
My wife, now retired, was involved in employee recruitment and retention at the business where she worked. Often in her efforts to recruit highly educated professionals to fill vacancies at the firm, the candidate or their spouse would state unequivocally they have no intention of living in Bakersfield. Their view, right or wrong, is that this town is an unsophisticated cultural wasteland unconcerned with the quality of its environment.
That view is substantiated by our past behaviors toward our cultural and physical environment. Along with a distinct lack of interest in preservation of our significant architectural heritage, save for what can be tucked away in Pioneer Village, our other physical and cultural assets remain neglected because everything of this nature is viewed as of secondary importance to the interests of local and powerful economic forces that, in looking through the narrow prism of their own short-term needs and wants, show little regard for the bigger picture.
Part of changing that negative attitude in enhancing and keeping what should be part of our local heritage is keeping the Kern River in town looking as a river should, while supporting its local ecosystem, which is what rivers do. That is, it not being a dry bed of sand while the entire natural water of this region is diverted away with the view that it should only exist as a piece of domestic plumbing with the efficiency of a flush toilet. That is holding it as the property of vested economic interests at the exclusion of the needs and values of others.
So, yes, voiceless or not, wildlife matters, too. As statewide riparian habitats dwindle from habitat loss and development, affirming the city’s claim would serve two needs. It would provide needed habitat for native wildlife, particularly birds, while restoring the river alignment to look more like nature intended significantly improving our quality of life. All that in the urban core providing the public with an immediate connection to the natural world that remains part of the south San Joaquin Valley. It would not be by accident that the incidental advantage of the proximity of a more attractive view shed would be an attraction to outsiders considering living and working here as much as it would be a statement of our own values.
For these reasons, the river should have flowing water as available. As for complaints from other interests, particularly the dismissive view of the so-called “Sustainable Kern River” coalition, a lobby sponsored primarily by the North Kern Water Storage District, that Bakersfield’s desire for water in the Kern through town just for “aesthetic reasons” is a trivial interest secondary to the economic interests that seek to grab the water from the disputed allotment.
Let’s note that Bakersfield is not challenging the rights of existing rights holders. The city is seeking to acquire the rights to unallocated water left from an allotment that had gone unused. That is, unless, as North Kern has claimed, that there is no water to allocate, then, if so, who has been taking it and by what right? This, in particular, applies to North Kern who, with their spin on the issue, is seeking to frustrate the city’s goal of acquiring that allotment.
Under the city’s proposal, the water would not be lost but would terminate west of town in percolation ponds feeding the aquifers. With the issues of land subsidence due to overdraw on the aquifers and the ongoing need to draw groundwater, this looks more like a win-win. North Kern’s argument is disingenuous if not just plain selfish and shortsighted. The city of Bakersfield, as the best and fairest steward of the disputed water, should get the allotment and use it as they propose to send available water to the aquifers by first passing it through town.
Stephen Montgomery is chairman of the Sierra Club Kern-Kaweah Chapter.