The Canals of Bakersfield

Water is critical in the Great Valley. Some places have too much, others struggle to get enough. Bakersfield has been on both sides of the coin.

Most of California’s rainfall comes off the Pacific to the west. Before it can get to the Great Valley, though, it has to pass over the Coast Ranges. Those mountains exact a sizable rain tax. Consequently, there’s not a lot of rainfall in the Great Valley, and almost all of that only comes in the winter. Without irrigation, farming is tough. Heck, most anything is tough.

Most of what rain gets past the coast ranges gets caught by the great Sierra Nevada, which forms the eastern border of the Great Valley. The runoff, and snow melt, flows back into the basin, but it’s concentrated in waterways and wetlands.

Bakersfield once was one of those wetlands. No longer. A well-engineered system of canals diverts the Kern River, flowing down from the Sierra, to ag lands. So complex is this system that canals sometimes cross other canals.

Here, the Friant-Kern Canal crosses the Calloway Canal.

The photograph above is of the Friant-Kern Canal, looking north. When you turn around (photo below), you can see the same canal continuing to the south, but the Calloway Canal (currently without water) crosses it.

Same site, looking south. Friant-Kern Canal continues off to the horizon. Calloway Canal (currently dry) in foreground.

There aren’t very many places where one canal passes right over another one. I am still unclear about exactly how it is done, even having seen and photographed it. Yet Bakersfield has at least two such places.

Would you believe it, this hydrologic/engineering oddity is not a noted tourist attraction.

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