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Liquid Assets

Alan Tandy, City Manager

Dancing fountains in the plaza that fronts the Rabobank Arena. The sounds of rushing water along the new Mill Creek Linear Park. The Kern River actually flowing with water.

In each instance, the presence of water is seen as a way to enhance our quality of life in Bakersfield.

The numerous parks interspersed throughout our neighborhoods and enjoyed by our citizens year-round are also another important component to our local quality of life. Water, again, plays a major role, as there are visible water elements within many of our parks, combining two recreational elements in one location. Eight City parks boast “spray pads,” which are very popular with our citizens. If you drive by any of the spray pads during the summer season, you will be greeted by the sights and sounds of children thoroughly enjoying themselves, surrounded by parents sitting in the cool shade.

Bakersfield’s new downtown Mill Creek Linear Park includes several water features. In addition to a large new lagoon between 19th and 21st streets, there are spray fountains in the waterway along the 1.5 mile park. Mill Creek also features a number of weirs that create the sound of falling water as it cascades over these barriers. Simply stand on the banks of Mill Creek at 19th Street or California Avenue, or walk over the pedestrian crossing at 17th Street, and experience the cooling, refreshing sounds of water.

A more subdued use of water is the Veterans’ Memorial at Truxtun Avenue and S Street, where the names of local veterans surround a bubbling fountain. Just a few yards away, the kugle at the east entrance of the Amtrak Station provides unique entertainment for visitors to easily maneuver a large granite globe that appears to be dancing on a thin sheet of water. Also at the Amtrak Station is the arrival fountain that shoots water high into the air to announce each of the six incoming trains on the San Joaquin route from the north.

Kern River Weir

The Bright House Amphitheatre at the Park at Riverwalk is a wonderful venue to gather with friends for the outdoor concert series. The Kern River water flowing in front of the stage area provides a unique and calming feature to the events that take place there.

Yet, how can there be so much water if we live in a semi-arid climate with less than six inches of rain a year? The answer is simple: good planning and forward thinking. In 1976, the City of Bakersfield purchased the Kern River assets of Tenneco West, Inc. Through this purchase, the City was able to acquire a substantial quantity of Kern River water, and the majority share of the historic “first point” Kern River water rights. This included a number of items: water storage rights in Lake Isabella, water rights to various utility canals, a majority of riverbed from Allen Road to Manor Street, water control structures on the river, a 2,800 acre water recharge facility, and a domestic water system. The purchase enabled the City to secure a safe, clean, and reliable long-term water supply for its residents.

The cost of this purchase was financed by a Kern River Water Bond, known as Measure “B” when it was approved by Bakersfield City voters on November 2, 1976. This $15,500,000 bond was financed through 35-year contracts with various agricultural water districts. The City entered into the long-term agreements with the agricultural districts not just to finance the acquisition, but also because the City did not have an immediate need for all of the water it purchased in 1976.

Truxtun Lake

That action was a very forward thinking and creative strategy on the part of the City. It not only ensured that the water would be used locally by area farmers until it was needed by the City, it also secured a steady source of funding for the purchase of the water. North Kern Water Storage District, one of the agricultural water districts, had a total contracted amount of 700,000 acre-feet of water to be delivered over 35 years. The final amount of 10,000 acre-feet of water was delivered to them on August 11, 2011. This is an important step in the completion of the historic and significant purchase of the City’s long-term Kern River water strategy.

There is no doubt that water is a valuable commodity and it is no secret that there are various parties, including the City of Bakersfield, who are interested in controlling what happens with the Kern River water. It is apportioned out among the various parties, including the City, that hold rights to certain amounts of the water. The City, as well as several agricultural water districts, has petitioned the State Water Resources Control Board for some of the water that has been declared “unappropriated.” As the majority owners of the Kern River water rights, the City wants the rights to the additional water.

Realistically, it will be a lengthy and complicated process before there is a final legal determination as to who should get the rights to that extra water. However, we are moving closer than ever to having water in the Kern River year-round. The citizens of Bakersfield will continue to enjoy the various water elements in our City parks and other places throughout Bakersfield, but they should also be able to enjoy it where one would most logically expect it—in the Kern River.

Article appeared in our 28-4 Issue - October 2011