Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, October 31, 2023


John Buse, Center for Biological Diversity, (323) 533-4416,
Bill Cooper, Kern River Parkway Foundation, (661) 205-3879,
William McKinnon, Water Audit California, (530) 575-5335,
Adam Keats, Law Office of Adam Keats PC, (415) 430-9403,

California Court Rules Against Kern River Water Diversions

BAKERSFIELD, Calif.— A Kern County Superior Court has ruled against the city of Bakersfield and agricultural water storage districts for diverting water from the Kern River, siding with environmental groups that sought a preliminary injunction on the harmful practice of entirely drying up the river in and downstream of the city of Bakersfield. Monday’s ruling prohibits the city from implementing diversions that reduce river flows below the volume necessary to maintain good condition for fish.

“This is wonderful news not only for the fish who thrive in a healthy, flowing Kern River but for the Bakersfield community wanting to see this public resource protected,” said John Buse, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The court has recognized that we can do the right thing and keep water flowing in the river without affecting the city’s water supply.”

A coalition of environmental groups — Bring Back the Kern, The Kern River Parkway Foundation, the Center for Biological Diversity, Kern-Kaweah Chapter Sierra Club, Water Audit California and Kern Audubon Society — is suing the city for diverting water for agricultural use in a way that harms wildlife, natural ecosystems, and the public’s access to outdoor recreation. The groups argued at a court hearing earlier this month that stopping these diversions would benefit the community without affecting the drinking water supply.

Monday’s ruling indicated that the environmental groups will very likely prevail on the legal merits of the lawsuit.

“The Kern River Parkway Foundation and friends have sought such a determination on this matter for 50 years,” said Bill Cooper, vice president of the Kern River Parkway Foundation. “The Bring Back the Kern committee, made up of younger community members, has successfully brought this issue to the forefront. Great news for one of America's most endangered rivers.”

“While we still have work to do, this injunction is a monumental stride toward giving the citizens of Kern the thriving river they rightfully deserve,” said Tim McNeely, spokesperson for Bring Back the Kern. “We are looking forward to collaborating with the city to implement this injunction effectively, aiming for a win-win outcome for everyone involved.”

The Kern River is one of the great rivers of California’s Sierra Nevada range, descending from its headwaters near the base of Mount Whitney to the San Joaquin Valley floor. Under drought conditions, the river channel becomes completely dry near Bakersfield, where water is diverted into canals and conveyed to farmland across the region. Without water, rare plants and endangered animals like the Buena Vista Lake ornate shrew and San Joaquin kit fox struggle to survive.

The city of Bakersfield is the administrator and manager of all Kern River water diversions, which take place every day from several small dams mostly on behalf of neighboring agricultural water districts. Environmental groups argue that these diversions violate California’s public trust doctrine, a legal principle that requires government agencies to protect public resources like the Kern River for the public good.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

center locations