BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — The lower Kern River is number seven on the list of the top ten most endangered rivers in the U.S.
This is according to an annual list put together by American Rivers which is a national group advocating for rivers and clean water.
The list was started in 1984, and since then the lower part of the Kern River has been on it in 1986, 1998, and 1990.
Many recognize Beach Park, a popular spot for cyclists, but what used to be the lower part of the Kern River is what has been added to the list.
The irony is that the river has no water and like most rivers on the list, this part falls under the trends the organization has seen for years now that land them on the endangered list.
“It is either, the water is over allocated so there is not enough water that we let go down the river. There is pollution, toxins, or agriculture runoff that is really impacting the water quality. Or there are dams, things that are just blocking the flow of the river and the fish that are flowing through the rivers,” said Amy Merrill, Interim Director for California Program with American Rivers.
For the Kern River, the report for the endangered river list found the main issue. There is no water flowing, it has been diverted to the agricultural fields before getting to the lower part.
But that’s not the only thing that can add a river to this list.
“[If it] is facing some sort of threat that is of significant magnitude. It threatens something significant to the people and ecology, and the river has to hold high value to the people and nature and have a major threat to the river itself and surrounding communities. [It] must have a solution to the threat that is viable in the next year and must have a significance to people and nature.”
Merrill explains, although the drought makes things worse, as we have seen dryer years affect the state’s water supply, the underlying threat specifically in California is the overallocation of water and, how the water is allocated is the main dispute.
“We use that water. All residents use it for drinking, for irrigating their lawns and their landscape. So having that riverbed actually improves our groundwater system that we use on a daily basis.”
Matthew Mayry, a Hydrogeologist and Volunteer with Bring Back the Kern, which is a local group advocating for water to run through the lower portion of the river in Bakersfield, says it’s a bad idea to continue to deplete groundwater resources and that unlike other rivers on the list, the solution may be easier.
“The engineering is much easier here. All we have to do is switch the gates and set agreements up among all the stakeholders. Let some of that water down, we don’t have to worry about water quality, unlike other rivers.”
Mayry adds at the moment the solution would be to let about 15% to 20% of the water flow down to the lower part of the river but noting those that currently have legal jurisdiction over the water must be agree.
In this case those stakeholders are represented by the Sustainable Kern River Coalition.
In response to the report findings, the founding member of the coalition and General Manager of the North Kern Water Storage District, David Hampton, said in part quote: “Sending water down the Kern River through Bakersfield year-round will require some serious trade-offs that impact us all. The Kern River is fully tapped. If it’s dry through Bakersfield, that’s because it’s working hard to support the livelihood of Kern’s people, including Bakersfield, amidst one of the most intense droughts California has ever seen.”
Meanwhile, Amy Merrill hopes the list serves as a call to action to combat the threats these rivers face.
“Where there are real challenges to our bio diversities to supporting our fish and wildlife, we can all put our shoulders to the wheel and make a change.”
Across the state, three of the ten rivers on the list are in California.
The Kern River is not only a valuable source for our local water supply but an important part of our economy.
We took a deeper dive into the history of the river and have a breakdown of some facts about this resource.
According to the Water Association of Kern County, the Kern River helps make up the five county irrigation districts that entered into long-term water supply contracts with the city in 1976.
The association also said that the river accounts for 34% of the Isabella Reservoir storage space owned by the city.
The average daily discharge from the river, or flow from the river, equals to about 1,008 cubic feet of water per second.
Finally, there is about 2,800 acres of land along the Kern River, between Renfro Road and Interstate 5. Acquired by the City of Bakersfield as part of the Kern River Purchase in 1976.