It’s been a busy Spring for KRB, and our group has swelled to over 500 members. KRB stands independent of commericial and political interests, and remains focused on the interests of boaters. It also sports the best organic information on boating the Kern. Join and help us support the Kern River!
As the Forest Service contemplated improving the very dangerous pathway to the Limestone Put In and Outfitters argued for a railing to make carrying rafts down easier, KRB took the lead in arguing that the primary objective should be to flatten the surface of its minefield of rocks.
This summer, the Forest Service acted on KRB's recommendation and the result is fantastic! You can almost jog down the path rather than twisting and dodging around a minefield of protruding rocks. KRB thanks the Forest Service and specifically Tricia Maki for making this important and enduring improvement to our river access.
Five years ago this week, I noticed that Southern California Edison was not releasing water in the Upper Kern on the week before Memorial Day according to its 2002 agreement with American Whitewater. The Forest Service had mistakenly omitted a single word from its ratification of the agreement, and Edison took advantage of that omission. Edison took this position even though the Forest Service had made it clear that rec flows the week before Memorial Day was a condition of any agreement Edison and AW reached. Edison also took this position even though it meant the Friday before Memorial Day was not deemed a release day, whereas a half-dozen Fridays before and after were release days — an absurd position to take. The Forest Service aptly characterized the situation: "SCE had agreed up front to the original language but has been taking advantage of our one word mistake from the original agreement."
So we caught Edison trying to squeeze more benefit from the agreement. What we learned along the way is that American Whitewater lied to us. AW tried to sell its agreement with Edison to the local boating community as providing an average of 39 whitewater “release” days a year based on a 30-year data set. But AW knew what Edison confirms: the agreement only provides for an average of 15 release days a year based on that data set — less than 15, in fact, because rising river levels often obviate any need for Edison to release any water from its diversion to meet the many conditions of the agreement. And when it came to the issue of flows on the week before Memorial Day, "words did not matter" to American Whitewater, as AW failed to notice the Forest Service’s omission in relaying the agreement to FERC. In the meantime, AW nixed the provision of a whitewater park on the Kern as mitigation for the Borel hydroproject relicensing — a long shot, and long-since failed, litigation move.
Given this setting, I filed a formal complaint with FERC as an individual in December 2012 against Edison. Along the way, I learned that Kernville is a company town. But that company is not the rafting outfitters; it is Edison. I found no support from Tom Moore of Sierra South, whose business relationship with Edison precludes him taking a position on any issue contrary to Edison’s. We all like Tom, but his relationship with Edison is also why he didn't support the decommissioning of Edison's Borel hydroproject. Across the street, KRBC co-owner Eric Giddens, who is close to an Edison hydrographer (getting proprietary Southern Sierra flow data in the process), and who quite vigorously conveyed Edison's position to me, told me that if I pursued the week before Memorial Day issue, “No one will boat the Kern with you.” Giddens added, “Have fun paddling with Paul Martzen.”
As everyone who boats the Kern knows, quite the opposite of Giddens’ predictions has come to pass. My complaint to FERC raised the week before Memorial Day issue, and a second issue about the language in the agreement governing the timing of whitewater releases. I pointed out that any planning advantage gained by a system based on the previous day’s average inflow at Fairview would be lost if boaters couldn’t figure out if the previous day’s average was likely to trigger a release in a timely manner. My action resulted in boaters gaining new public internet gauges above and below Fairview Dam. My action also gained us the rightful inclusion of the week before Memorial Day in the North Fork Kern's whitewater flow regime, as reflected in the screenshot of last year's flows at the top of this blog entry.
Kern River Boaters was founded to combat the lack of energy and leadership promoting noncommercial boaters' interests in the Kern River drainage, as evinced by these major oversights. KRB also hopes to avoid a repeat of the last KR3 relicensing, where a mitigation fund of $300,000 was spent on commercial outfitter interests (e.g., schoolbus-capable pullouts), not ours. KRB has been furthering noncommercial boater interests regarding parking and access at Limestone, early access to the Forks of the Kern, the gauge on the Mouth of the Canyon run, and the decommissioning of the Borel hydroproject. KRB will continue representing boaters’ interests at public meetings and in agency proceedings. In the next few years, KRB will start organizing for the relicensing of the KR1 & KR3 hydroprojects. To show your support for our efforts, please join our Facebook group. If you want to get more intimately involved in the politics of the Kern drainage, contact us directly.
On April 01, 2016, KRB met with Tricia Maki of the USFS and Matt Volpert of Kern River Outfitters at the Johnsondale Bridge parking lot to view and discuss the Limestone put in. The problem remains the jagged rocks protruding 4-6" in the concrete path to the river, creating a hazardous obstacle course for those seeking access to the river — including boaters carrying heavy kayaks or rafts. Injuries have been reported from the twisting of ankles and tripping and falling.
There are two ideas to improve the path: (1) Make the path smooth, probably by pouring additional concrete to cover the rocks; (2) Install two handrails in the center of the path that would double as boat ramps.
KRB pointed out that installing handrails alone would not be enough to remedy the hazard posed by the path. Handrails would force those who use them to follow a straight line down the path and thus make them negotiate and step onto and over the uneven rocks. Handrails could also impart a false sense of security as the path is negotiated. Handrails would likely lesson but not eliminate the occurrences of tripping and twisting.
KRB believes smoothing the pathway offers the greatest and most inclusive public benefit, and should be the first priority of the USFS. Make no mistake, handrails that double as boat ramps could add to this benefit, and the space estimated by Mr. Volpert that would be required between the rails for a raft ramp appears to work for kayaks (ramped perpendicularly) as well.
Ms. Maki is the senior Ranger in the field for the Upper Kern. She was a prime mover in the camping restrictions which have curbed the trash problems on the Upper and will be spearheading the coming push to make the Sequoia NF glass-free. Ms. Maki understands the problem with the Limestone put in and will be working with engineers and seeking funding to rectify it. Please let her know you appreciate and support her efforts on the Limestone put in and, if you agree with KRB, let her know that she should prioritize the smoothing of the pathway.