By The Bakersfield Californian
I'd love to point a finger and complain about how the city of Bakersfield hates trees and that's why whole groves along the Kern River were mowed down in the last few months. Unfortunately, it's not that simple.
Fortunately, for me though, this story is yet another example of why it is imperative that we get water flowing in the Kern River.
JOIN THE FIGHT FOR THE RIVER
If you would like to join Rich O'Neil's efforts to find a way to get water back in the river, please give him a call at 837-4216.
(Yes, I'm stumping for my pet cause -- again. But it all ties together, you'll see.)
More than 20 years ago, Kern River Parkway Foundation volunteers installed an irrigation system along the river. They planted hundreds, thousands, of trees. They donated supplies, time and labor to make a swath of the city beautiful and inviting.
And they succeeded, for a while.
The Kern River Parkway, known simply as the bike path, has been a huge benefit to residents who could bike and stroll for miles and have at least some shade along the way.
Well, all infrastructure has a limited life span and such was the case with the irrigation system between Yokuts Park and Coffee Road.
As the city endured cutbacks from the state and economic downturns, it stinted on maintenance, according to to Kern River Parkway Foundation committee chairman Rich O'Neil.
The idea was to keep much of the parkway in a "natural" state, meaning native species, no mowing or unnecessary pruning. So, neglecting the irrigation system might have made some sense, particularly had the river been able to do the watering for us as nature intended.
But much of the river is divvied up among agricultural users east of Manor Street with only occasional trickles allowed to make their way through the city in some years.
Then drought choked off even that paltry amount.
As the drought dragged on and the old irrigation system crumbled into total disrepair, the trees died.
"We lost probably 800 trees up and down the river," O'Neil told me.
The dead and dying trees posed a serious hazard and so in July the city cut down 80 mostly cottonwood trees between Coffee Road and the Truxtun lakes. In September, they cut down another 150 between the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad tracks and Yokuts Park.
Most of the trees were hybridized natives that weren't as hardy as fully native trees would have been, O'Neil said.
If there was any green at all, the tree stayed, City Tree Supervisor Race Slayton told me. Still, the areas are mostly barren.
OK, it's too bad, but what's the plan now? More volunteers? A new irrigation system? New trees? ('Cause you know Bakersfield would jump to it if called.)
Nope, don't bother.
"The city won't allow us to redo the irrigation system and they won't allow us to replant in those areas, for now," O'Neil said.
Maintenance costs money. So does the water. And the city can't pay.
"We're not going to forget about that area," Slayton said. "It just not on the radar right now."
Everyone I spoke with agreed that our absolute best bet is to get the river flowing again.
"These are native river bank trees," O'Neil said. "But they need water in the river."
O'Neil has been trying to gather a citizen's group to advocate for ways to establish that needed flow.
Perhaps, he said, city-owned river water now sold to farmers and moved out of the river east of Manor Street could be run down the full length of the river to west of Stockdale Bridge where it could be pumped out and moved back up to farmers. The plumbing does exist to do that.
Or, he said, the city could institute true conservation methods and every drop of water saved from going down in toilets, showers and lawns could also be run down the river.
Oh yeah, getting water back in that river can be done. It's just up to us to do it.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org