Education Class for Saturday, January 13, at 10:30AM
“The Battle Over Isabella Dam”
Kathleen Freeland is a history lecturer at Cal State Bakersfield. She
grew up in the Kern River Valley and graduated from Kern Valley High
School. Her Master’s Thesis, “Reclamation, Flood Control, and Farming,
The Battle Over Isabella Dam,” was chosen as the Outstanding Master’s
Thesis in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at CSUB.
When the idea of building a dam on the Kern River began to circulate as
early as 1893, there was never any measurable opposition to the idea.
Most people recognized that farming in the San Joaquin Valley required
a more stable water supply than the unpredictable Kern River could
provide. A prolonged drought between 1917 and 1935 made the need
for irrigation storage a priority, but plans for the Kern River shifted to
flood control when the region experienced a stretch of
uncharacteristically wet years between 1936 and 1943, at the same
time Dust Bowl migrants were settling by the thousands in Kern County.
The dam was finally approved in 1944 as a multi-purpose project
centered on flood control, changing the flow of the Kern River forever.