With such dangerous conditions, could the Kern River close to the public?
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) —
Strong and deadly currents are raising safety concerns about the Kern River.
Search-and-rescue teams are busy, and several people have died in the river, the most recent incidents over Memorial Day weekend.
Some Kern County supervisors said this is not something they are looking to do. Sheriff Donny Youngblood agreed and said closing the Kern River is unlikely and said it is an "unpractical solution."
"Closing that river is just not an enforceable act that would justify the cost of doing it," Supervisor Mick Gleason said.
"I don't think we should close the river," Supervisor David Couch said. "To close it we would actually have to have sheriff deputies making sure people didn't get in the river. Our sheriff deputies are stretched thin already. I just don't see stationing tons of deputies along the river."
"We don't have anybody with Kern County Sheriff's to go out," Sheriff Donny Youngblood said.
Youngblood said search-and-rescue teams are volunteer-based, and he is not going to put deputies along the river to ticket people and make sure they do not go in.
"It would just be ridiculous to pass an ordinance that's not going to be enforced," Youngblood said. " ... We shouldn't make laws that are unenforceable."
The Kern River is also long, and Youngblood said that makes it hard to police. Also, different parts of the river are in different jurisdictions.
"I mean, when you drive in the Kern River canyon, if you don't see the huge sign that says almost 300 people have drowned there, and that doesn't get your attention, I doubt they will listen to a post that says no swimming," Youngblood said.
Couch said this was mentioned in the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, and that got him asking questions about an alternative to closing the river.
He said he's looking to see if it is possible to put up signs in the county areas that would state people could be on the hook to pay for their rescues from the river.
"I would hope that a sign that says, 'You're financially responsible for the cost of being rescued,' if that's needed, would be a deterrent to people from even getting in the river, and hopefully that might save a life," Couch said.
He got this idea from a picture he was sent.
"I received a picture sent to me of a sign in Boise, Idaho, that says exactly what I'm saying," he said.
The county currently does not bill someone for their rescue.
"You can gauge the amount of hours (search-and-rescue teams) spend, and then you can attach a dollar figure to those hours if you choose," Youngblood said.
The sheriff, however, said he does not think the sign would help, and said it would be hard to get money from people.
"It certainly wouldn't bother me if they put up signs and if they attempt to charge people," he said. "I just think that we have to be careful where we go and make sure we can enforce what we write."
Couch said he's looking to see if the pay-for-your-rescue ordinance would be practical and legal. Eyewitness News reached out to county counsel for thoughts on such an ordinance but has not heard back.