Environment & Science

Kern River rafting companies thrilled with snowpack

Rafting guides with Sierra South Paddle Sports learned about river rescues, how to load and unload rafts and other skills along the Kern River this week.
Rafting guides with Sierra South Paddle Sports learned about river rescues, how to load and unload rafts and other skills along the Kern River this week.
Courtesy of Tom Moore/Sierra South
Rafting guides with Sierra South Paddle Sports learned about river rescues, how to load and unload rafts and other skills along the Kern River this week.
About 20 new guides with Sierra South Paddle Sports trained on the Kern River to lead rafting trips. Rafting companies are hoping for a longer season this year after five years of drought.
Courtesy of Tom Moore/Sierra South
Rafting guides with Sierra South Paddle Sports learned about river rescues, how to load and unload rafts and other skills along the Kern River this week.
Sierra South Paddle Sports has begun offering guided rafting trips as of Mid-March due to better water flow conditions this year compared to last.
Courtesy of Tom Moore/Sierra South


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Kern River rafting companies are over the moon with the state’s latest snowpack reading in the Sierras. 

Wednesday’s manual reading from the California Cooperative Snow Survey Program measured the snowpack at Phillips Station — about 90 miles east of Sacramento at nearly 95 percent of normal. At the same time last year, it was in the single digits.

Statewide the snowpack is about 87 percent of normal, with the Southern Sierra registering 77 percent.  

About three hours  north of downtown Los Angeles are several rafting companies, dotted along the Kern River. 

Last year, many of the companies had short seasons or did not run trips at all because the water was so low in the Kern River. 

Now, the rafting companies are crossing their fingers for a better year.

Sierra South Paddle Sports runs trips on the upper Kern River and relies on snowmelt from Mt. Whitney for healthy flows. 

Co-owner Tom Moore said it was a financial burden for him to only run trips in April and May last year, when he usually runs through Labor Day. 

Moore calls himself a “snow farmer” and said he has been eagerly watching the skies and checking his computer for snowpack readings every month.

He said even a below average snowpack beats last year. 

“It’s pennies from heaven,” he said. “We are so thrilled... It will be the best water year in five years.”

He said during a stretch from 2012 to 2015, his company brought in about half the revenue than it normally does. 

“Our flow is dependent on snow in winter season as it melts in the spring,” he said. “We have to have water to run our business so without water, we can’t run rafts down the river, can’t sell kayaks - it becomes hard to operate.” 

The company also books trips for other companies on the lower Kern River. The water there is derived from Isabella Dam, and he said it was even more impacted the last couple of years.

“We all have suffered, what I had was a two-year drought plan, I didn’t conceive a four year plan, it’s been hard,” Moore said. 

He said he has been able to count on other revenue streams to survive. He has a retail store that sells kayaks and boats and whitewater equipment throughout the country. But the majority of his business relies on running rafting trips. 

He said he’s still not likely to stay open the whole season this year. But hopes to stay open through at least August.

“The water will be a great year, what it won’t be is a giant water year,” he said. “It’s just going to be ideal runoff that will really make it fun, like seeing an old friend.”

This week, he held a training for 20 river guides, some of which were trained last year and had to retrain because of the higher water conditions. They started running trips as of mid-March.