Water in the River. That sounds like a natural occurrence. Not for now. Not for Bakersfield. The city has been advocating for many years to increase the water flows in the Kern River. The State Water Board is now in a process that may determine if what once was a natural occurrence (water flowing in the river) could once again be enjoyed by all of the citizens of Bakersfield.
To have a flowing river would be an exciting reality for local community, businesses and overall quality of life in Bakersfield. Perhaps most importantly, it would help replenish the groundwater aquifer under the city that every citizen and business relies on. More water in the river would help sensitive ecosystems in regaining some of their greatly diminished riparian habitat. There is no doubt that a flowing river would be an economic driver for the city providing an unmatched recreational amenity for all of our citizens and visitors. Water in the river would have an enormous effect on the local economy and overall image of Bakersfield.
More water in the river does not mean less water for farming. The water never leaves Kern County. Instead of diverting the water upstream of the city the water simply flows through the city (is enjoyed by all) and then it is diverted through canals and pumping to the water districts and the citizens of Bakersfield.
The issue the State Water Board is looking at is the Kern Delta forfeited water rights, This water is estimated to be an average of 50,000 acre feet per year. The city of Bakersfield proposes to let the water flow down the river for the benefit of the public. The logic is that a natural waterway is part of the Public Domain and should be protected by the state for the public at large. In legal terms, it is called “the public trust doctrine."
If any citizen wishes to help return flowing water to the Kern River, an email stating such would be helpful. Send correspondence to: AdminHrgOffice@Waterboards.ca.gov with the subject line “Kern River Applications.” Citizens could also show support for water in the river by signing the petition to get water back in the river at change.org/restorethekern.
I ride my bicycle along the Kern River (dry river bed) every day. Even as a dry dusty river bed it is the crown jewel of Bakersfield. It has a string of parks with play equipment and play fields from Manor Street to Enos Lane. It has fishing ponds and jogging trails. It has exercise equipment, volleyball courts and disc golf. It has restaurants and shopping. It has an amphitheater and bicycle trail. But it does not have flowing water. It is a five-star public space along a river that does not have water.
Water flowing in the Kern River would truly be the “Sound of Something Better.”
Bob Smith is the Bakersfield City Councilman for Ward 4 and chairman of the city of Bakersfield Water Board.