THE WILD AND SCENIC KERN
This federally designated wild and scenic river is one of the most distinctive and beautiful rivers in the country. Its headwaters are at around 12,000 feet in Sequoia National Park, close to the base of Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the lower 48. It cuts a deep and dramatic canyon through the mountains almost 130 miles long, with the upper half of it in pristine wilderness, where the river is unencumbered by dams and free from any human development.
The Kern hosts a wide array of plant and animal diversity. As the southernmost river in the Sierras, it sits at the intersection of a wide array of species and biomes. A large number of rare birds depend on the Kern for survival, as well as dwindling populations of endemic golden trout - California's state fish.
The Kern is one of the best rivers in the West for the recreational opportunities it provides, including whitewater sports, fly fishing, wind & kite surfing, and non-water activities such as hiking, camping, mountain biking, and rock climbing. National whitewater competitions have been hosted on this river and people travel from across the country to enjoy what it has to offer.
With an average annual runoff of over 700,000 acre feet of water, the Kern has been sustaining life for millenia. Prior the the arrival of western settlers, it sustained Native American people groups. Its waters drained into 3 of the biggest freshwater lakes in the west - Kern, Buena Vista, and Tulare Lakes. Waters from these lakes and the waterways that connected them sustained over 4 million acres of wetlands across the Tulare Basin, which supported enormous populations of birds, fish, elk, and bear. Today the Kern's waters supply over half a million people and nearly two hundred thousand acres of farmland.
BUT THE LAST 30 MILES OF THIS MIGHTY RIVER ARE DRY
CALIFORNIA'S 9TH LARGEST CITY HAS NO RIVER
In all but the wettest of years, all of the Kern's flows are diverted out of the river channel into canals. Much of this water flows parallel to the riverbed throughout the year, particularly during the summer. This leaves Bakersfield residents without the aesthetic centerpiece of their city and makes the Kern River Parkway a mere shadow of what it could be as a quality of life amenity.
PLANTS AND ANIMALS HAVE LOST THEIR LIFE SOURCE
The Valley portions of the Kern river channel are home to rare plants and animals that have lost critical habitat due to the Kern River being dry. Instead of the thriving riparian vegetative areas, large sections of the dry Kern riverbed are dead - without water and the plants they support, many animals can't survive. This includes the endangered Buena Vista Lake Shrew, a wetland mammal that needs more riparian habitat to prevent any further population decline of this species. Other endangered animals, such as the San Joaquin Kit Fox also depend on the Kern River Parkway as a wildlife corridor to allow a Bakersfield and rural Kern County fox gene pools to mix.
AN ANCIENT AQUIFER IS DRYING UP
The vast majority of the southern San Joaquin Valley's groundwater has been provided by the Kern River, having percolated into the groundwater table over thousands of years. Over the past 150 years, this water has gradually been depleted and now the aquifer is critically overdrafted. This is the aquifer that sustains thousands of acres of farmland and provides drinking water to the city of Bakersfield.
TOGETHER WE CAN BRING BACK THE KERN
THE TIME IS NOW
After decades of waiting for a flowing river, things are changing. People are noticing and taking action to protect this endangered river. In recent years, big victories have been won for the restoration of other rivers that have been dry for decades - most notably including the Owens River and the San Joaquin River. Below are some of the strongest reasons why now is the time to Bring Back the Kern.
THE PUBLIC TRUST
One of the strongest arguments for the restoration of the Kern is a clause in the CA constitution that requires that waterways be managed in a way that preserves access for plants, animals, and people. It's become more widely recognized that diverting all water from these rivers is a violation of the Public Trust Doctrine, and now water is being returned to rivers around the state as a result.
SUSTAINABLE GROUNDWATER MANAGEMENT ACT
This 2014 law requires that all groundwater basins balance their groundwater pumping with water recharge, effectively putting an end to deficit pumping by 2040. This increases the importance of groundwater recharge, which happens naturally through the Kern Riverbed. Historically, this use of river water was argued to be a waste of water, but now it's an essential part of a sustainable groundwater management plan.
HOW WE WILL BRING BACK THE KERN
Pressure the State Water Resources Control Board to intervene on behalf of the restoration of the river and conduct a public trust analysis. This will provide a scientific basis for determining how much water needs to be in the Kern River to adequately protect public access, habitat, and wildlife.
- Ensure water rights holders must comply with established public trust requirements requirements to ensure the river is protected in the future. All rights holders should have an obligation to make sure the river is flowing. This can be done through a water board adjudication or mandate, which the public can help push for, through litigation, which an entity like Bring Back the Kern can push for, or through voluntary agreements from all stakeholders.
Establish a water banking credit system to ensure water rights holders still have access to their water that flows down the river but may have percolated into the groundwater table. This groundwater recharge will be accessible to water rights holders via water exchange with other rights holders or by paying to pump the water and move it in existing infrastructure to their districts. This has been successfully done many times before but just needs to be done consistently at a larger scale. See this article for a recent example of this type of exchange.