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Casey Christie /The Californian

Dry grass already surrounds the lower Kern River in this April 2013 photo.

A trial over whether the City of Bakersfield is obligated to continue selling Kern River water to an agricultural water district is underway in Ventura.

The city had sold the water, about 70,000 acre feet a year, to the North Kern, Cawelo and Kern-Tulare water storage districts under terms fo a 35-year contract.

Those contracts expired Dec. 31, 2011 and the city notified the water districts it intended to take that water back and run it down the river bed.

North Kern contended the contract only allows the city to take back its water if it shows it has a need and a project for that water.

Running it down the river is not a need, nor a project, North Kern has said.

The city has argued that it needs the water to recharge the city's aquifer for drinking water and the best way to recharge the aquifer is using the Kern River bed, hence "need" and "project" are fulfilled.

That would not completely preclude continued sales to the ag districts, depending on how much water Mother Nature delivers each year, the city has said. Cawelo and Kern-Tulare agreed with the city.

North Kern did not and sued.

The city purchased this water back in 1976 from Tenneco West. It used a bond to make the purchase and paid off the bond by selling the water to the ag districts.

This is different from another chunk of Kern River water being up for grabs through the State Water Resources Control Board.

In that case, North Kern sued the Kern Delta Water District for trying to take back water that North Kern had been using from the river. North Kern argued Kern Delta had forfeited that water under the "use it or lose it" rule.

A judge agreed Kern Delta wasn't using the water and it was forfeited. But he also ruled that only the State Water Resources Control Board can decide who gets the water, about 50,000 to 90,000 acre feet a year.

North Kern, the city and several other water districts have applied to the board for that water. Only the city has promised to run it down the river.

That process is ongoing.