Webinar: How warring parties on the Putah Creek found detente

October 11, 2022
by Lois Henry
Rope swings hang over a dry Kern River west of Allen Road in Bakersfield. Lois Henry / SJV Water
Lois Henry

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The Kern River isn’t special.

Rivers and streams throughout California are fought over with just as much passion and vehemence as the Kern River has seen from the 1880s to the present.

But opposing parties on some of those rivers have found their way to compromise.

The Putah Creek in northern California is one such stream.

Bakersfield group, Bring Back the Kern, will host a roundtable discussion on how the Putah Creek parties found, if not harmony, at least detente, and whether there are any lessons for those fighting over the Kern River.

The Putah Creek roundtable will be held Oct. 20 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. online. Interested persons may register here.

Panelists include:

  • Roland Sanford, General Manager of Solano County Water Agency.
    –  Sanford was instrumental in the formation of the agreement and is now responsible for its continued success. He has gone from being a skeptic to becoming a leading proponent of the Putah Creek Accord
  • Joe Krovoza, former Chair of the Putah Creek Council and former Mayor of the City of Davis
    – Krovoza was on the Putah Creek Council when it was formed and was closely involved in the fight to restore and protect Putah Creek from ever going dry again
  • Karrigan Bork, UC Davis Professor of Law
    – Bork is a leading scholar of the Public Trust Doctrine and Fish and Game Code 5937, two laws that were pivotal in restoring flows to Putah Creek

The Putah Creek is about half the size of the Kern River in annual flows and brings water east out of the coastal range through Solano and Yolo Counties into the Sacramento River.

In the late 1980s, the combination of drought and water diversions dried up more than 20 miles of riverbed. Over the next decade, community members created the Putah Creek Accord to protect agricultural and municipal water rights while also establishing minimum flows for the river, ensuring that even in drought years, the waterway will never dry up again, according to a previous press release from Bring Back the Kern.

This is the first “River Roundtable” to be held by Bring Back the Kern, which had originally scheduled the webinar in March, but had to postpone due to scheduling conflicts. The group hopes to also examine a compromise on the American River that allowed several hundred thousand acre feet to flow further downriver, enhancing the area’s parkway, rather than taking the water out upstream.

Claims on Kern River water are currently being hashed out before the State Water Resources Control Board. Back in 2011, the board found the Kern was not fully appropriated but didn’t say how much water was available nor who should get those flows.

Hearings on those issues began in August 2021 and are continuing  through this year. Entities vying for water include, the City of Bakersfield, the North Kern Water Storage District, the Buena Vista Water Storage District, Kern County Water Agency, Kern Water Bank and Rosedale-Rio Bravo Water Storage District.

Only Bakersfield has promised to run the water down the river bed.

SJV Water is an independent, nonprofit news site dedicated to covering water in the San Joaquin Valley. Get inside access to SJV Water by becoming a member.

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