Thursday, June 27, 2024

Summer 2024 Update

Another TWD Election is Coming

There will be another Tuscan Water District election, mostly likely in February 2025.

Like last December's election, voting power will be based on the value of land owned, which in our opinion renders it unfair and undemocratic from the get-go. 


Because the California constitution requires a 2/3 majority to approve the kind of new tax assessment Tuscan Water District is requesting, the path toward victory this time is somewhat narrower.

It remains a possibility that the ag community itself will balk at raising its own fixed costs.

Nut prices are depressed and the orchard economy is already under a lot of strain. From the beginning of the TWD saga, we have argued that it represents big ag interests preying upon the vulnerability and panic of smaller family growers. The new water district, with cooperation from a County government dominated by ag-industry interests, is promising them that expensive and scientifically dubious recharge infrastructure will protect them from eventual State of California metering of wells in order to slow the decline of the aquifer.

Our group is well positioned to make the case publicly, once again, that TWD cannot keep those promises, and that behind closed doors it is actually a water grab on behalf of those farms with the most extensive water rights.

Will the residents and smaller growers dependent on at-risk shallower wells heed the warning? All we can do is make the case, once again. And we will.

Public Meetings

This summer our crew is keeping tabs on the public-facing aspects of local water politics by attending meetings of the Tuscan Water District, the Vina Groundwater Sustainability Agency, the Butte County Water Commission, and (as relevant) the Butte County Board of Supervisors. 

The Vina Groundwater Sustainability Agency's 2022 Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP), already approved by the State, states quite openly that the water table will be allowed to drop to unprecedented lows, and 20% of monitoring wells allowed to fail, before the County must take any action to reverse the damage.

Even in its approval document of the Vina GSP, the State Department of Water Resources issued this caveat:

"The GSA does not access how the proposed minimum thresholds for the chronic lowering of groundwater levels may impact other sustainability indicators (e.g., groundwater storage, depletion of interconnected surface water, etc.). Considering the GSA is choosing to manage the Subbasin below historic lows (italics are ours - ed.), understanding this relationship will be important during plan implementation."

You don't say! We'd love to understand why the Vina GSP is "choosing to manage the Subbasin below historic lows." Perhaps nothing is being said about this elephant in the room at every water-related meeting because AquAlliance sued the Vina GSA (and other agencies) over this and the case is making its way through court.

One thing we have observed is that the key players determining Butte County's water future are mostly a handful of the same faces, same consultants, through the years. Unlike us, they are paid to be there. They smile at us when we show up. They express the warmest welcomes even though we were on TV last fall accusing them of selling out democracy and the public's vital interest in the aquifer.

We play along. We collect the agendas. We compare notes. We believe most of the people we're observing really mean well. But the devil is always in the details.

Butte County Recharge Action Plan

Butte County has adopted a set of policies and ideas to encourage and enhance groundwater recharge in wet years. G4B has asked to be present at the Butte County Department of Water Resources and Conservation meetings this summer where projects will be prioritized for funding.

As things stand, those choices are due to be made with input heavily weighted toward the private industry association that has driven and funded the Tuscan Water District’s establishment, and from the same consulting firm that put together the Vina GSP.

G4B generally supports locally-managed, low-cost strategies to help nature recharge the aquifer during wet years. But we find the Recharge Action Plan rather long on hopes and short on details. The science is also shaky on whether artificial recharge is even worth attempting. Underground flows are only vaguely understood, and water recharged in Butte County’s foothills tends to seep southwestward to the proliferating deep wells of Glenn and Colusa Counties.

As money begins to flow into these experimental recharge projects, consultants, construction interests, and political actors in league with them will all want us to believe they are solving the problem. If it turns out that the “recharge” projects Butte County focuses on are mostly just a gravy train powered by wishful thinking, we’ll  be the ones to say so.

But for now, we're hoping to help steer the process toward less expensive ideas that do not require higher property taxes or concentrated private power over the aquifer.


Do you have time to help us keep local officials honest?

We would welcome more citizen watchdog helpers. Going forward, a community brain trust of seasoned water defenders will be essential. It should be clear to all by now that in an era of virtually unrestricted political campaign donations by business interests, the public interest can only be safeguarded by an engaged citizenry.

Up until now, local compliance with the State of California's 2014 Groundwater Management Act process' has been oriented toward organized business interests, with domestic well owners, creek and valley-oak ecosystems, and the long-term viability of the aquifer secondary. 

Contact us at info@groundwaterforbutte.org to volunteer.

Donate here to our fund for media buys and public education leading up to the election.

Please consider doing your own part to ensure that our leaders know they will be held accountable, now and 10 years from now, for the actions they take regarding our groundwater.


We oppose the formation of the Tuscan Water District and demand that Butte County officials step up to their responsibilities under State law. The groundwater belongs to the public and must be managed transparently by publicly elected authorities - not privatized as a "water bank."  

Friday, January 26, 2024

TWD Election Analysis

A Vote Based On $ Went 79% For Those With The $. 

On Dec. 5, 2023, Tuscan Water District won a majority of votes in an election that violated every Constitutional legal norm some lesser property owners can think of by allotting one vote per dollar of land owned.

Here are the numbers from the County's election certification document: 

TWD petitioners accounted for about $300 million out of the over $700 million in assessed property value within the District map. Predictably enough, $309 million worth of assessed land value voted yes.

So even one accepts appropriating votes based upon wealth, TWD was passed with the approval of less than half the assessed value of property within the district.

This is the breakdown by ballots cast:

One could argue that even if the ballots had been based on one person-one vote, TWD would have won. However, no-shows were the biggest share of registered voters by a wide margin when counted as individuals rather than collections of parcels.

Groundwater For Butte requested the most detailed spreadsheet on the vote that the County Recorder was legally able to provide us, and crunched the data:

Non-Voters Carried the Day.

Of the ballots mailed out, fewer than half were returned. Each ballot represented not an individual owner or company representative, but an APN number:

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

TWD Provisionally Established

Next: Taxation Without Representation.

Tuscan Water District, to the surprise of nobody who can count, won a majority of votes in an election that violated every Constitutional legal norm we can think of by allotting one vote per dollar of land owned.

But it still has no funding. Under the terms stated in the ballot itself, another landowner-weighted election is now required to decide whether TWD will A) impose taxation without representation upon hundreds of homeowners; or B) collapse.

And then there's the question of whether the TWD's hidden godparent, the State Department of Water Resources, will be able to rescue it with California taxpayer grants. Watch for DWR to prop up this private government entity with public money if enough property owners do realize that giving the biggest pumpers a blank check to manage our groundwater might not be the best idea.

Here are the numbers from the County's election certification document:

The TWD petitioners accounted for about $300 million out of the over $700 million in assessed property value within the District map. Predictably enough, $309 million worth of assessed land value voted yes.

That represents less than half the assessed value of property within the district.

This is the breakdown by ballots cast:

One could argue, and we're sure the TWD proponents will argue, that even if the ballots had been based on one-person- one-vote, TWD would have won.

However, the biggest share of the ballots by far were no-shows. By our count, another 800 or 900 ballots that went out to property owners either were not returned at all.

(Some of those may never have been received in the first place. But after last year's aborted election, the County Recorder seems to have run a tight ship with this one. Most of those who have reached out to G4B asking why they got no ballot were never going to get one, even though they have wells dependent on the same underground pool. "Sorry," we've said again and again. "The map was drawn to exclude you.")

What's Next

Since it's safe to assume that most who petitioned for TWD would have followed through with "yes" votes, this may leave the second election competitive for opponents. A property tax assessment requires 2/3 approval. Even though the second election will privilege big landowners the same way this one did, 2/3 is a much higher bar.

It's one thing to hustle an obscure, barely comprehensible new layer of government into being by depending on voter apathy. To expect the same apathy when asking for money is another.

Groundwater For Butte got a late start in this game but it isn't going anywhere. We've built the infrastructure to serve as watchdog, news source, and focal point for the public interest. The conflicts over water resources never end, and considering how Butte County has been captured by narrow commercial interests in the past few years, they may only intensify. 

Will you be paying attention and holding elected officials to account? We will. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Post-Election Update

Votes To Be Counted About Dec. 12

Yesterday, Dec. 5, was the last day to postmark a ballot in the wildly undemocratic, landowner-controlled Tuscan Water District election.

The County Recorder waits a week for all ballots to be in, then counts the votes. That means the results will be out sometime after Tuesday, December 12.

We don't expect to prevail in a rigged election, though we'll be pleasantly surprised if we do. However, these last months of community-building and awareness-raising have been worth all the time spent and money raised. The TWD proponents will now have to deal with a community that is informed of the danger of a water grab through an unaccountable new layer of government, run by its biggest beneficiaries in a conflict of interest so stunning that few would have imagined it could get this far.

TWD will have no funding if it gets established in this vote. There will have to be a second election, with a 2/3 majority "yes" vote, to get a property-tax assessment. Perhaps the landowner-weighted voting rubric is tilted heavily enough to get even that to go through. Taxation without representation, courtesy of business people who keep saying, "Trust us - we're the biggest users of the water!"

If a second election fails, the state may be waiting in the wings with taxpayer grants. Then the people of California will know for sure that socialism for the rich is a thing.

TWD is on very shaky ground legally. There has to date been no court challenge to the SGMA law's enabling of "landowner water districts" and other undemocratic new layers of new government, paid for by taxpayers, ostensibly purposed with preserving groundwater.

But we have seen and studied one extensive document from 2017 that laid out the unconstitutionality of these privatized mini-governments based on the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. One person, one vote is the law of the land. So why isn't it the law at the gates of Chico? 

How did the TWD get this far? By moving around chess pieces in private and depending on public indifference (which was apparently a reasonable expectation). Nobody in the district got so much as a postcard in the mail saying, "We want to set up this government and here's why." It was cooked up by industry insiders for years, then sprung upon an unwitting public.

How do we know they were unwitting? G4B has gotten countless queries to the effect of: When do I get my ballot? When do I get to vote on this?

The answer again and again is: You don't get to vote at all.

While the public was locked up in the pandemic, or failed by vanishing local journalism outlets, or simply going about their business trusting that democracy was still a going thing in America, the TWD crept into their backyard and got almost to the finish line with nobody noticing. 

So it's a good thing we noticed and spoke up. 

This piece from Groundwater for Butte appears in the Sierra Club Blue Group's winter newsletter. It pretty much sums up the problem with TWD.

Friday, November 10, 2023

Ballots Arrive for the Water Grab

Once More From The Top:


Ballots were sent Tuesday Nov. 7 to property owners in the area of the proposed Tuscan Water District.

A grand total of 67 individual property owners are now in a position to impose a California Water District upon the remaining 1,700 property owners on 102,000 acres. Voting in this "election" is weighted toward who owns the most land.

Residents, retirees, homesteads, families going back generations, and small farms gearing up for true sustainability are about to be shoved aside in favor of a handful of fast-growing corporate ag entities.


(And that is true whether they hold another election to tax all property owners, or get expected grants from the State Department of Water Resources. See below for more on that.)

Here is a chart of the top landowners and their overwhelming weight in this election:

This would all be bad enough if the 67 petitioners were all actually people. At least people could be viewed as having some concern for the health and future of this land and community.

BUT THEY ARE CORPORATE ENTITIES. And most are not even based here.

Are we clear on this? Corporations are voting in Butte County elections.

The list of candidates for the TWD board is one index of this corruption of democracy. The graph below reveals that most are corporate employees, and that half of these individuals do not live in Butte County. Every single one of them represents firms among the top 50 landowners by assessed value.

Half of the candidates are members or directors of the Agricultural Groundwater Users of Butte County, the members-only growers' interest group formed in 2017 with the explicit goal of influencing, to their benefit, Butte County's compliance effort with the State's 2014 groundwater sustainability law.

The leaked document below spelled out the agenda even before AGUBC was formed:

Role of the State Department of Water Resources (DWR)

State water planners first dreamed of hooking up Butte County's rich west-side groundwater basins to state networks in 1978.

Our water was termed an "underperforming asset" by the technocrats and engineers whose job it has been, for over a century, to move water from areas in California that still have it, to those that have foolishly used up all theirs.

And what did the DWR propose to do, even in 1978?

1: Lower the water table about 100 feet (far enough to choke off all valley-oak ecosystems, creek ecosystems, and virtually all shallow wells) to create storage space for banked water. This is exactly what the Vina GSA proposed in its 2022 sustainability plan.

2: Develop infrastructure to pump in surplus surface water during wet years and "bank" it for groundwater pumpers. This is exactly what the TWD is intended to accomplish.


The flow of the aquifer south and west was always well known. DWR intends our "underperforming asset," the groundwater that keeps Chico green and homesteads able to survive, to be sucked out of the ground by its clients in Glenn and Colusa Counties as well.

A few slides from our recent public forums illustrate the DWR's plans:

The Curious Journey of Paul Gosselin

Tuscan Water District was sold to local growers as a way to forestall the State of California coming in and gaining control of this area's groundwater.

But that is exactly what is happening - through the back door, by stealth.

This is a brief timeline of the career of Paul Gosselin, until 2021 the chief of Butte County's Department of Water Resources and Conservation. (You can view his bio at the State DWR here.)

1. Sets up Butte County's Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (2015-16)

2. Contacts and lobbies local growers to form the Tuscan Water District (2017-18)

3. Presides over creation of the Groundwater Sustainability Plans (2019-20)

4. Promoted to Deputy Director of Sustainable Groundwater Management at the State of California's Department of Water Resources (the same agency that identified our groundwater as an "underperforming asset" to the rest of the state in 1978.)

5. Approves the Groundwater Sustainability Plans for Butte County that he himself created (2022), even though the GSAs were promptly sued over the stated plans to (you guessed it) drop water tables 100 feet below historic averages.

6. Doles out millions in grants to the Groundwater Sustainability Agencies that he himself set up while at Butte County (2023)

And what's next? We suspect that if the Tuscan Water District gets established by this current election, he will supply it with sufficient grants from State taxpayers to:

Pay back its debts to its private backers

Give it a budget to do more than accrue debt and engage in PR

Put off having the TWD ask the landowners for a property-tax assessment (which would require 2/3 approval, again by value of assessed land – a higher bar for passage).

And then what happens? Using State funds to build public infrastructure implies State access to our water, perhaps even before a single acre-feet of water has been delivered to our area through TWD's various infrastructure schemes.

All the DWR needs is a drought emergency declaration, and all bets are off.

So much for keeping the State of California out of our groundwater.



Saturday, October 21, 2023

Town Hall-Style Events

Learn What Tuscan Water District Is Really About.

Groundwater For Butte will hold the following events in early November, just before Measure N ballots are mailed to property owners in the area of the proposed Tuscan Water District. 

Please tell your neighbors and friends, whether you live in the proposed District or not. The fate of the entire area's groundwater depends on this ballot being defeated. With voting weighted toward assessed value of land, the vast majority of domestic and small-farm well owners are going to have to vote NO in order to defeat it. Only a few dozen large landowners have to vote yes to pass it.

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Come To Our Campaign Kickoff!

 The Pageant Theater is at 351 E 6th Street in Chico.

Click here for a brief Youtube introduction/trailer on the documentary.