Put Water Back in Bakersfield's Dry Kern River!

Put Water Back in Bakersfield's Dry Kern River!

July 10, 2020
Petition to
Chair of the California State Water Resources Control Board Joaquin.Esquivel@waterboards.ca.gov and 10 others
Signatures: 10,676Next Goal: 15,000
Support now

Why this petition matters

(Versión en español)

Governor Newsom, Secretary Crowfoot, Secretary Blumenfeld, and members of the CA State Water Resources Control Board,

Signers of this petition demand that you uphold your promises to fight for environmental justice in California by restoring water to the Kern River in Bakersfield. This majestic river flows through the heart of Bakersfield, California’s 9th largest city, but in all but the wettest of years, the riverbed is more like a desert wasteland than the riparian ecosystem and recreational amenity it should be. Dead trees and shrubs line the banks of what should be a forested wetland.

We are asking you to change the status quo for the Kern River by comprehensively evaluating the public trust resources of the Kern River. Diversions of Kern River water predate the landmark 1983 Mono Lake decision that transformed the role of the state in protecting waterways, wildlife, and recreation. Because of this, no users of Kern River water have any obligation to take into consideration the needs of people and ecosystems that would benefit from and that depend on a flowing river.

The only way a river like the Kern should be allowed to remain dry is if the Board assesses the costs and benefits of the total diversion of the river and decides what is in the best interest of California. No "balancing" like this has ever been performed on the Kern River. If this assessment was done, environmental flow protections on the Kern River will be deemed necessary and beneficial.

Choose to address the core issue of the problem with the Kern River - that it is perennially dry - rather than pushing consideration of the public trust years into the future. All users of Kern River Water should bear responsibility to ensure that the Kern River remains a river by abiding by scientifically based environmental flow requirements. The State Water Board can also lead in establishing a groundwater banking credit system that can ensure rights holders on the Kern River still have access to use water that flows through the river and recharges the underlying aquifer.

Establishing public trust protections and minimum flow requirements can restore the flowing river that Bakersfield has lost. This water will allow the revival of a critical riparian ecological corridor, the restoration of the pride and joy of the Bakersfield community, and the replenishment of the badly depleted aquifer beneath the city, which is the source of most of the City’s municipal water.

The Wild and Scenic Kern River used to flow into three of the largest lakes in North America – Kern Lake, Buena Vista Lake, and Tulare Lake. Together with the other Sierra rivers of the Tulare basin, it sustained hundreds of thousands of acres of wetlands, flush with thriving fisheries, migratory waterfowl, and large game such as deer, grizzlies, and elk. These lakes and their associated wetlands are long gone. We are not asking for the restoration of these ecological treasures.

Rather, we are petitioning you for the restoration of the final miles of this river, which forms the aesthetic centerpiece of our community, our main outdoor recreational amenity, a critical wildlife corridor, and is the lynchpin of our community’s groundwater sustainability. All of this water will remain for beneficial use in the Kern sub basin, either as surface water or as recharged groundwater. This is not a zero-sum struggle between environment, agriculture, and other water users.

How can the survival of plants and animals dependent on the river continue to be swept aside and the quality of life of half a million Bakersfield residents continue to be ignored? The Owens River flows once again, Putah Creek has been protected, and the San Joaquin has returned, yet somehow the parched banks of the Kern are left to languish and die?

Don’t be the leaders who let another Bakersfield generation come and go without water in the Kern River, lamenting as country music legend Merle Haggard did in his final recorded song: "They used to have Kern River here, runnin' deep and wide... Then somebody stole the water; another politician lied." 

Bakersfield needs a river now. Take the necessary steps to initiate a comprehensive assessment of public trust resources and establish minimum environmental flow requirements on the Kern River.

Support now
Signatures: 10,676Next Goal: 15,000
Support now

Decision Makers

  • Joaquin.Esquivel@waterboards.ca.gov Chair of the California State Water Resources Control Board
  • Wade CrowfootSecretary of Natural Resources
  • Dorene D'AdamoVice Chair of the California State Water Resources Control Board
  • Tam M. DoducCalifornia State Water Resources Control Board Member
  • Sean MaguireCalifornia State Water Resources Control Board Member