BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Since the 19th century, the Kern River has been diverted for irrigation and recharging aquifers, driving water away from its natural route through Bakersfield. Now a local group is hoping to bring attention and change to the river.
Before the Kern River was diverted for private use, the water emptied in the Kern and Buena Vista Lakes as well as through Bakersfield City. But now as many drive through parts of Bakersfield, they only see the dry remnants of the once rushing river.
Putting water back into the river seems like a strange concept, but according to Bring Back the Kern, it’s desperately needed.
“The issue really started in the early 2000s, when we really started to see the levels drop. My own personal experience, I haven’t really seen a wet river since the mid-90s, since my childhood," said Miguel Rodriquez, Community Organizer for Bring Back the Kern.
The Kern River is known to have rushing rapids along Highway 178 through the canyon, but as you make your way through Bakersfield, most of the riverbed is dry.
“You know Lake Buena Vista is just a sliver of what it used to be, and then extinct Kern Lake, those used to be the reservoirs for the Kern River," Rodriquez said. "Now that those are all gone, we’ve manipulated the water system to these canals that don’t really do anything but irrigate our farms.”
Many of those looking to refill the dry riverbed say they recall the times when the river flowed through all of Bakersfield, giving life to the riparian climate.
“We get about the same amount of rainfall as a desert out here in Bakersfield," Rodriquez said. "We still have a lot of water flowing through it, so what that creates is Bakersfield is a watershed and the Kern River is the main vein of that watershed.”
The members of Bring Back the Kern, the nonprofit pushing to return water to the Kern River, say they are hoping the city will change the diversion point for the area’s network of irrigation canals from upriver to downriver.
In December, the state water board will look at the Kern Delta forfeited water rights and make the determination for the Kern River’s future.
The public may weigh in on the Kern River at a hearing coming up on December 9 at 9 a.m.
Written comments may be emailed to AdminHrgOffice@waterboards.ca.gov with the subject line “Kern River Applications.”