KERN COUNTY, Calif., Between October 2022 and March 2023, 31 Atmospheric Rivers made landfall along the West Cost. These severe weather events contributed to a snowpack in the Southern Sierra Mountains that was more than 300% above average. To determine the impact snowmelt could have on our communities, local city and county departments continue to work with state and federal agencies to finalize “Simulated Inundation” maps. Until these maps are completed what work is being undertaken now?
Currently, the Kern River Watermaster and US Army Corps of Engineers are coordinating their efforts to increase the outflow from Lake Isabella gradually to make room for the forecasted inflow. A target flow of 7,000 cfs has been established to be released from Lake Isabella, but this amount will not be seen through Bakersfield. According to Watermaster Mark Mulkay, “Upwards of 3,500 cfs is diverted from the river through various canals before even reaching Manor St. As a result, there is no anticipation of flooding outside the levees through Bakersfield under current atmospheric conditions.”
Kern County Public Works is focusing their efforts on maintaining roads. This includes removal of debris in and around bridges and unplugging culverts to ensure they convey water underneath roadways. During recent heavy rains, the “Flood Fight Facility” worked extremely well for Lamont and Public Works staff are prepared to implement similar measures for snowmelt should the need arise. If Caltrans must close Hwy 178 through the Canyon, there are two primary options for residents to exit the Kern River Valley. They can exit through Hwy 178 east or Caliente Bodfish Road south. Public Works staff have been working to repair Caliente Bodfish Road in anticipation that it will be heavily traveled in the coming months. Public Works will also continue to monitor riverbanks and levees between the canyon and Manor Street. Within this area are several portions of Round Mountain Road which are susceptible to erosion. If roads become threatened, all available tools will be used to maintain safe and passable options for residents of those areas.
In addition to the work accomplished by our local departments in coordination with state and federal agencies, technical experts such as Geotechnical and Flood Fight Specialists have been requested to aid with planning and high-water management. In the days and weeks ahead, we will continue to release information as it becomes available to clarify the efforts undertaken for public safety. In the meantime, all are encouraged to monitor weather forecasts and sign up for emergency notifications at ReadyKern.com.
For questions or comments related to areas of the Kern River flowing through Bakersfield, or to report blocked waterways, individuals can call the Water Dispatch Hotline 24 hours a day at (661) 326-3715.