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.