The California State University of Bakersfield (CSUB) teamed up with the Kern River Parkway Foundation, the city of Bakersfield Recreation and Parks Department, and several other organizations for the last day of their Sustainability Symposium. The event called community members to help plant three different types of California native trees along the Kern River Parkway Trail, in the same area as CSUB’s Audubon Bakersfield Environmental Studies Area (BESA).
The Valley Oak, Western Sycamore, and Live Oak tree variety are all drought tolerant and will be watered by the city. The goal is for the trees to provide shade and cool air for the community, structure for further ecosystems to develop, store and extract CO2 from the air, and a natural way to store groundwater.
Bring Back the Kern is another group that helped plant trees and lead trash cleanups along the river. The group was adopted by the Kern River Parkway Foundation and started in the early 2000s as a group of individuals lobbying for water to be restored to the riverbed that runs through Bakersfield.
The State Water Resources Control Board and the city of Bakersfield have been asked by concerned citizens to comply with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. Local agencies must prioritize a minimum amount of water in groundwater basins. An appropriate amount of groundwater and surface water is necessary to sustain life due to consistent years of being dry.
The Public Trust Doctrine found in California law ensures that the state has a responsibility to protect public entities like navigable waterways for future generations to use.
The area residents are focused on is where the river is diverted from the Panorama Vista and Kern River Canyon through town and ends where the Buena Vista Aquatic Recreational Area starts, closer to Taft. The Kern River Parkway trail and CSUB’s environmental studies area also runs along the Kern River, between those points.
Dr. Antje Lauer is a professor at CSUB and a microbiologist. She hopes to restore the Kern River Parkway area and BESA, and for it to be managed more like the Panorama Vista Preserve. Lauer explained that the riparian forest around the panorama vista is a good model to create plans for BESA.
“This is actually supposed to be the Bakersfield Environmental Studies Area, which not many people know about. They [CSUB] has applied for a grant from the Fish and Wildlife Department to restore the floodplains,” said Lauer. “Right now it looks pretty, but most of it is invasive grasses.”
Wildlife in the area includes native kit foxes, roadrunners, and bobcats. Several species of invasive plants endanger native wildlife. Cottonwoods and Willows are among the surviving native wildflowers blooming on the riverbank this year.
“This is the BESA, there should be projects. In the fall we will investigate microcrustaceans and other invertebrates in the water. Now that the water flows again, there are actually a lot of lichens, but there are probably no little shells because they’re all dead,” Lauer stated, “How long does it take to have life again in the water?”
Currently, due to a rainy winter season, there is water flowing through the Kern River. However, water experts explained that outflow water filling the dry Kern River is dirty with sediment from the recent years of wildfires, and it would take consistent water flows to support nearby ecosystems. Runoff from melted snow is expected to bring fresh surpluses of water.
Aryn ‘Lola’ Alcantar is a Frontier student in Bakersfield who attended the tree planting and river cleanup event.
“The grass is growing a lot more, and you can see where everything is filled up in comparison to when it was all dead previously,” stated Alcantar.
One professor involved had their class help with trash cleanup along the River as a way to further educate themselves on harmful microplastics that break down in our environment. Jaskaranjeet and Jasmeet Kaur are students with CSUB’s Sensational Sophomore Program. They were both in attendance at the event to help clean the riverbank.
“The trails are narrower because there are fewer people there, but we can still find trash there,” Jasmeet Kaur said. “It’s really important to dig down and get [the trash] because they’re not going to decompose any time soon and they’re hurting the plants nearby.”
Jaskaranjeet Kaur explained that volunteering in the community by removing harmful debris from the river is impactful because future generations can enjoy the natural restoration of wildlife that hasn’t been seen for decades.
“You don’t have to start big, start small. Give thirty minutes of your time. Maybe come here for a walk and bring a trash bag with you, and pick up trash on your way. Get your health in and benefit the community,” said Jaskaranjeet Kaur.
Delia “Dee” Dominguez, leader of the Yowlumne Yokuts tribe, recalled enjoying the river as a young child around the late 1950s and seeing oak trees that were later removed for road construction.
Dominguez told the LA Times, “It really hurts me when I see a dry riverbed. That river has always fed so much. It has always created so much life.”
Benefits from the excess rain this year are an influx of bird species and wildflower blooms.