City Beat Blog

Tuesday, Jun 19 2012 06:47 PM

LOIS HENRY: You want water in our river? It's time to step up

BY LOIS HENRY Californian columnist lhenry@bakersfield.com

If you've been wondering whatever happened to that "fight for the Kern River" thing I was harping on all the time, well, it's back -- finally.

The city will issue its draft environmental impact report on restoring water to the river on a regular basis. I know it's exciting, but wait your turn, no shoving, there'll be plenty of copies for everyone.

Related Info

Lois Henry hosts Californian Radio every Wednesday on KERN 1180 AM from 9 to 10 a.m. You can get your two cents in by calling 842-KERN.

River documents

Check the city's website for the draft environmental impact report on restoring the river.

Right now, the site only has earlier documents. But the EIR should be there in the next few days.

The comment period for the draft EIR is 45 days starting June 20.

http://www.bakersfieldcity.us/weblink7/Browse.aspx?startid=920754&row=1&dbid=0

Calendar THIS:

July 11, 5:15 p.m. City Council chambers, 1501 Truxtun Ave.

Come early to get good parking.

Be prepared with a short statement and you will be required to state and spell your name for the record.

The document, more than a year in the making, will be submitted by the city to the State Water Resources Control board as Bakersfield's bid to lay claim to 50,000 acre feet a year of pristine Kern River water that the Kern Delta Water District forfeited several years ago. (I'll explain that part in a bit.)

So it needs to be perfect. Compelling. And above all thorough.

This is where you can jump in on the process.

Read the EIR and come to a meeting on July 11 at 5:15 p.m. in the City Council chambers to voice your support.

No whining about how boring environmental documents are and not having time for one measly meeting.

Nothing worthwhile is ever free. And getting our river back is priceless.

So cowboy up!

Specifically, what the city needs to hear is whether you feel anything that should have been studied in the EIR was missed, or if anything seems misstated or inaccurate. Or whether there are any extras you feel should be added.

Oh, yeah, and how you feel about the project overall.

That's right, if you just want to stand up and tell the world (briefly) how much you love that river and want it back, come on down.

The state needs to know how important this is to the citizens of Bakersfield.

Yes, the process is creakingly slow and complex and fraught with legaleze.

But at its core lies the public trust doctrine, which asserts that rivers belong to all the people. And the State Water Resources Control Board has a duty to protect that right.

That means we need to make our voices heard.

Running water down the river, as the city wants to do, will recharge our aquifer, providing more and better quality drinking water. Absolutely.

It will also vastly improve our quality of life. And that really does count -- even in Bakersfield.

So, clear the decks and plan to be at the City Council chambers July 11.

The river needs you.

Now for that explainer I promised earlier so you'll know how we got here.

There are only a few owners of Kern River water rights. The three main rights holders are the City of Bakersfield, the Kern Delta Water District and the Buena Vista Water Storage District. (North Kern Water Storage District has rights to use a certain portion of the water, but doesn't own it.)

Kern Delta is the first in line on that list and, historically, whatever Kern Delta didn't use, it would "release" back to the river. Users down the line, mainly North Kern, would pick up that so-called release water and use it free of charge.

About 20 years ago, Kern Delta decided to use that release water itself. North Kern sued, saying that since Kern Delta hadn't been using that water, it had forfeited its rights.

They scrapped over it for more than a decade and in the end, Kern Delta was found to have forfeited 50,000 acre feeta year.

North Kern didn't automatically get that water, though. Instead, it went to the State Water Resources Board, which has permitting authority over almost all water in California.

Once it was in the state's hands, a number of entities, including Bakersfield, Buena Vista, Kern Water Bank, Kern County Water Agency and North Kern and the City of Shafter jointly filed applications asking for that forfeited water.

Bakersfield was the only entity that pledged to run it down the river.

Very quickly, all the water districts joined forces against Bakersfield, trying to stop the process and finally suing the state board for finding there was unappropriated water on the river. (They lost that suit but are still appealing.)

The next step in the process is for each entity to file an EIR with the state.

Then, unfortunately, we will have more waiting to do before the state takes action.

The Kern River, our river, is worth the wait.

Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lois Henry, not The Bakersfield Californian. Her column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Comment at http://www.bakersfield.com, call her at 395-7373 or e-mail lhenry@bakersfield.com

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