Poetry at State Water Board Meeting on October 5, 2021

Poets and creative persons from our community presented their works (virtually) to the State Water Board on October 5, 2021.  Their presentations portrayed the importance of the Kern River to our community from different angles (music, children’s book, painting, and poetry).  They also hoped to influence the policy makers regarding the initiative to bring back water into the Kern River.

Creative expression reveals the beauty of living to oneself. connection with others and community.  And poetry made its vital presence at this meeting.  Afterwards,the law makers expressed their appreciation of the opinions shared.

The presentation of poets and others was requested by Jonathan Yates.  He is spearheading the “Bring Back the Kern” movement.  He is interviewed for this story.  

The poems, recited at the meeting, were those of Margie Bell, Shelley Evans, Diane Lobre, Carla Martin, Don Thompson, and Jana Lee Wong.  Each author sought to express what the Kern River means to them.  These poems are provided for you to read after the Jonathan Yate’s interview.  

Interview of Jonathan Yates
by Carla Martin 

Q: What inspired you to spearhead this movement to Bring Back the Kern?  What steps have you taken?  How do things stand now? Is there any hope of water flowing again, or are the investments of agriculture and oil too entrenched to sway the powers that be?

A (JY): I moved to Bakersfield first in 2016 and in my short time here I’ve seen the dramatic difference a flowing river makes to the quality of life here. Some of my favorite things to do here are whitewater kayaking on the river, rock climbing, hiking, or mountain biking near the river. The dry river became a real frustration to me as I always saw water flowing through canals throughout the city, including in canals directly parallel with the river channel. This frustration boiled over in 2020 after a 30th birthday 100 mile backpacking trip took me to the magical headwaters of the Kern River. I came home wanting to do something to change the status quo. It started with an online petition. One thing led to another and now we have a team of people working to get the river flowing again. We do this through fun and interesting public awareness projects, direct advocacy to the State Water board, and putting pressure on decision makers to prioritize the river.

The Kern River should be flowing – the fact that is not is a violation of California law, including the Public Trust Doctrine, which mandates that the state protect rivers for the benefit of all Californians, and also Fish and Game Code 5937 (another law), which mandates that operators of dams always allow enough water to pass through the dam to keep fisheries below the dam in good health. We have a historic opportunity this year to get water back in the river, because the State Water Board is holding a hearing on the Kern River to resolve some decades old disputes. Just because the hearing didn’t arise due to the river being dry doesn’t mean the State Water Board can’t do anything about it. In fact, Bring Back the Kern, along with other partner non-profits, is directly involved in the hearing to argue that the State Water Board has a legal obligation to use this opportunity to assess the harm done to public trust resources along the river (wildlife, habitat, recreation) and to restore them. Environmental justice has won similar victories on other CA waterways, and we firmly believe that the Kern River will be next. Stay tuned by signing up for our email updates on www.bringbackthekern.org and by following us on Instagram.


 Q:  Why did you think it was important to include the words of Bakersfield poets, artists and musicians in your presentation to the Board for “Bring Back the Kern”?  Are you a creative soul as well?  What value do these art forms have in this crusade?

A (JY):  Poetry, art, and music all hold an important place in our culture and our hearts. These art forms have the power to evoke emotions that cannot be conveyed by simple prose. This is especially important as we are in a battle to show that a flowing Kern River matters. The River and all that it sustains cannot and should not be reduced to a calculated dollar figure to be weighed against other dollars that could be made with the use of Kern River Water. We need the State Water Board and people within and outside our community to clearly understand the value of this life giving body of water. Music, art, and poetry can win over skeptics in our community who may not otherwise realize the significance of what we are losing by not having a river. It can also win over decision makers who have no personal connection to the river, but can deeply connect with the river through the work of creatives.

I’m grateful for the poets, artists, and musicians in our community who are able to tell the story of the Kern River through their work. I myself don’t have the same giftings, although I do like to generate ideas and hand them off to the professionals to make them a reality, like the ephemeral artwork we did in the river in February or the river mural we are planning for the parkway.


Q:  What can we, the ordinary folks who live here, do to further your cause?  What future events/meetings have you planned?

A (JY):  For people who want to be involved in “re-watering” the Kern River, please join our email subscriber list to stay up to date on what’s happening. We have an upcoming march in the dry Kern River on 11/13 (a river of people to raise awareness for a flowing river) as well as several trash cleanups along the river, which we always hope will garner strong community turnout. See this page for our upcoming events. If you’re especially passionate about the river and want to join the Bring Back the Kern core team to put in some regular volunteer hours, please reach out to contact@bringbackthekern.org – we would love to chat with you on how you can put your skills to use in service of the community & the river.

Q:  Is there anything else you would like to share?

A (JY):  Spread the word! Make sure your neighbors, friends, and family all know you care about having a flowing river. Inspire others with this vision. The river is a public resource – it belongs to all of us. If all of us remain quiet, if we don’t show we care about the river, the abysmal status quo of a dry river will continue. If we continue to push for water in the river and don’t give up, we will succeed. History is on our side.   

Poems recited to the State Water Board on October 5, 2021 

The Dry Riverbed
by Marjorie Bell

The dry riverbed
speaks of neglect
and even despair
in a world that cares
not for wild things,
but uses and abuses
grasslands, trees
and creatures beyond
our wildest imaginings.

The riverbed lies dry,
barren, trashed by those
who do not know its history,
the source for plants that
renew the earth and turn
the desert green.

Rivers, streams can
awaken our dreams
of plenty in this barren land.
Relaxing by a river
brings comfort to the soul.
Wading into a stream
awakens our senses.
Following a river to its source
restores our bond with
nature as we make
amends for our disregard.


Free the Mighty Kern, Let it Flow
by Shelley J. Evans

Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink?
Nothing flowing in the Kern? What are we to think?

A parched and arid riverbed;
through Bakersfield it appears as dead,
quite unsightly, not so pretty;
it’s definitely an eyesore in our city.

Water’s a life source to plants and fish;
it’s also for people, to entertain and enrich.
A healthy river needs waterflow;
it shouldn’t dry up nor be so low
as to be mistaken for a useless, empty ditch.

Imagine what it would be like
to head to Beach Park for a hike:
past the ballpark, up over the hill,
across the bike path ~ WHAT A THRILL!
to see the Mighty Kern flowing free, 
full of water as it should always be.

Some people in our city can’t get to the beach;
lakes and other rivers are beyond their reach.
If the River ran through it,
Bakersfieldians could canoe it,
swim, raft, and kayak – we should be able to do it.

What about those not active in a water sport,
such as authors, poets, lyricists, and the sort,
who relish the quiet
of the River? Beside it,
we’re inspired and our creativity becomes art.


River of Kern
by Diane Lobre

Water, precious water
Sustainer of life
Flows through the Kern 

Green adorns her banks
Shining under the sun
Willow trees lazily drink

Fox and chipmunk refresh
Barren dry, burnt brown earth
Begs you stay, replenish

Dry river bed a reflection of need
Mother’s tears shed in vain
Snow melt tracks diverted

River return your cooling flow
Let children’s laughter lift up
Dancing in your shallows

Let us sit by your banks
Listen to your peaceful song
Lull us into gentleness

Rippling over rock and sand
Like a joyful spring giving life
Your currents ebb and flow


Water Brings Life
By Carla Joy Martin

Water brings life
Rushing down from mother mountains
The mighty Kern feeds the valley
Once the Yokuts fished and feasted
Settlers forded it
Developers canaled it
Now the bed is dry and famished
A few lone egrets stalk the rushes
The ghosts of the Indians cry
Children look at the dirty ravine and ask “why?”
As we drive around our city
The ugly gash is such a pity
Water would bring life to the land
And bless the creatures and every man
Will we continue to starve our souls?
Water brings life
Life brings water
Will you use your life to bring our water back?


by Don Thompson

The river is quiet here
and almost motionless, drifting
into little eddies of anticipation.
Cottonwood leaves tremble, excited,
although the air is still:

The wind has gone upstream
where you can almost hear,
if you listen closely,
white water applauding.
something wonderful is coming.


Kern River Coyote
by Jana Lee Wong

on the banks of where the river used to be,
i saw you, coyote, too weak to howl at the moon.
lost on the western side of the riverbed,
where all water is lost to groves,
where banks have turned to dune.

the fish dried up to greed, 
rabbits losing ground,
squirrels suffocated in their holes,
not even the snakes come around.

your ribs tell the story of mansions built
where nature once ran wild,
your eyes stare in desperation
as wetlands dry, dead weeds piled.

the herons that once flocked here
have gone so far of late,
and you are a reflection of our future, 
what man has made his fate.

if the water should be returned
to its natural ebb and flow,
trees would return, the owl, the hawk,
a thousand birds of show.

Oh coyote, they know what they do,
they sacrifice their grandchildren still,
to the price of the milk of almonds
and the land they excessively till.