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.

Our Opposition Will Be In the Voter Pamphlet

 The 2023 Vote: Second Attempt to Privatize the Aquifer.

Tuscan Water District's supporters have accused us of mounting a "kitchen sink smear campaign" against their stealth takeover of groundwater control in northwest Butte County. 


That means we're being thorough – and rather than address our concerns, they'll stick to sentimental slogans and slick marketing, as they have from the beginning.

It's a year since the first Tuscan Water District was called off on the day ballots were to be counted (see this page for details on that fiasco).

Groundwater For Butte has emerged in the meantime as a community resource and whistle-blower on this attempt by a business elite to seize groundwater control right outside the boundaries of a city of 107,00 people.

This time the voter information pamphlet will include a robust opposition statement and rebuttal to the proponents' argument in favor of Measure N, which will approve or reject the Tuscan Water District based on how many dollars the supporters' land is valued (hardly a democratic vote). 

Those texts follow. (Ballots will be mailed November 7, and must be received back by December 5.)



Submitted by Groundwater for Butte 

Don’t be fooled by promises of local control. If Measure N passes it will enable outside interests to control the basin while billing the rest of us to pay millions for pipeline infrastructure. It will add more taxes, more government, and more regulation - without safeguarding the groundwater. 

Fiscal recklessness: This ballot creates a water district with no source of revenue, but lots of debt. The $10 per acre per year tax proposed last year would only repay its backers’ costs to date and keep the lights on. That’s before any infrastructure is built or imported water is purchased. Would you buy a car before the dealer told you the price? 

Needless bureaucracy: TWD adds another layer of taxing government. The county, city, and new Groundwater Sustainability Agencies won’t give up any of their regulatory power. But they’ll shift millions in overhead onto this district’s landowners. The Tuscan basin’s health is the responsibility of Butte County, already equipped to do it far more efficiently without excluding Chico water users.

Concentrated power: Six big landowners have enough property to decide this vote and elect the board. The largest entity, a Utah based megacorporation, controls almost 15% of the land and almost all its river water rights, and is expanding fast. TWD opens the door for wealthy outside corporations like this to gain control and price out locally owned farms, making “local control” meaningless.

Recharge is dangerous: Our porous basin leaks westward toward Glenn and Colusa Counties’ proliferating deep wells. It’s not a bathtub. Importing river water will enable firms able to pay for it to engage in lucrative water banking. Residents and family farmers will get no relief at all even while shouldering the burden - and slowly lose their water rights, because whoever “recharges” owns that water in the ground.

Vote NO.


Argument in Favor of Measure N

On behalf of more than 62,000‐acres of farmers and domestic well users in the Vina Subbasin, we respectfully urge you to VOTE YES on the Tuscan Water District.

California recently (it was 2014 - ed.) enacted legislation – the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) – to fix groundwater overdraft, a condition where more water is pumped out of an aquifer than is being put in by annual rainfall and other sources. Locally, the Vina Subbasin has experienced chronic overdraft due to multi‐year droughts and an ever‐growing local population.

We must act now or risk losing access to the groundwater we need – for the food we eat, the families we raise, and the regional economy it supports. More than six years ago, Butte County leaders urged groundwater‐ dependent farmers in the Vina Subbasin to create the Tuscan Water District to focus on addressing groundwater issues, particularly the local overdraft problem. 

If approved, the Tuscan Water District will be able to pursue and implement various projects (i.e. water supply, groundwater recharge, voluntary conservation, etc…) to benefit all groundwater users in the Vina Subbasin. 

The Tuscan Water District formation effort is supported by hundreds of farmers, domestic well users and other local individuals, businesses, and stakeholders. It is also supported by numerous local and state individuals and organizations, including the California and Butte County Farm Bureaus, Congressman Doug LaMalfa, Assemblyman James Gallagher, former Butte County Supervisor Jane Dolan, Northern California Water Association, Family Water Alliance, Butte County Board of Supervisors and Butte County Water Commission, Western Canal Water District, Richvale Irrigation District, and Butte County Rice Growers. 

Please help us protect and preserve our access to groundwater for future generations by voting YES on the Tuscan Water District. Visit our website www.tuscanwaterdistrict.com for more information. 

Chief Petitioners Rich McGowan, Ed McLaughlin, Darren Rice


Rebuttal to Argument in Favor Of Measure N

Groundwater For Butte

Tuscan Water District proponents claim widespread support. But the 62,000 “supporting” acres belong to only 67 land owners, some of them out-of-county corporations. About 1,700 owners of the other 50,000 plus acres have been sidelined throughout the formation process.

The aquifer overdraft was caused not by droughts or population increase, but by vastly increased tree crop acreage (57 percent more, or 40,000 acres, from 1999 to 2019). Chico takes only 10 percent of the annual Vina Subbasin draw. Agricultural overexpansion and overpumping are the real problem.

The District’s proponents are asking us all to pay to pipe surface water to groundwater dependent areas that they themselves have depleted. They can then “bank” it and profit off a public resource when water prices are high.

TWD bets on experimental, engineered solutions many years in the future, while putting all taxpayers in its area at immediate risk of unforeseen costs.

Proponents warn that “We must act now… to protect and preserve access to groundwater for future generations.” The Vina Groundwater Sustainability Agency has acted and secured over $5M for planned projects to achieve sustainability in a manner accountable to the public.

The real threat to groundwater access for growers and domestic wells owners is this ballot measure. Don’t give power over public groundwater to a business elite. You’ll never get it back. Vote NO.

Please visit groundwaterforbutte.org.


Rebuttal to Argument Against Measure N

This document is available on the County's website. It doesn't say anything new, but apparently the proponents think Groundwater For Butte is dealing in 'kitchen sinks,' or something. That's their take on us giving a thorough account of all the risks this secretive project is bringing upon our community.

Saturday, August 12, 2023

About That Election Letter From The County

Dotting I's, Crossing T's, and Still Undemocratic

Groundwater For Butte is being asked what this letter from the County is about. The short answer is: It's not a ballot, even though one page shows the Tuscan Water District's upcoming ballot initative as written, with "yes" and "no" fill-ins. The ballots for this latest in a slew of pro-forma elections to get TWD established and its backers compensated will go out November 7 and be due December 5.


In the wake of last year's TWD election – canceled on the day votes were to be counted due to procedural and legal errors – it's clear that County officials are being cautious to a fault this time.

That's why the second TWD election is being carefully noticed by mail, including instructions on how to run for TWD's board and how to submit arguments for and against it.

We'll say it again: Groundwater For Butte wants everyone to vote "no" on everything to do with the Tuscan Water District. 

However, our bigger point is that this entire process fails the test of democracy. It appears to have been designed from the beginning as a means to avoid asking permission from the vast majority of Butte County residents who depend on this aquifer. Votes are weighted by value of land owned – one dollar, one vote. The map was drawn surgically to exclude residential neighborhoods adjacent to orchards, lest these elections be required to be one-person, one-vote.

We have not been honestly informed who is backing TWD or who has paid for it so far and needs to be paid back if it is established.

Most importantly, few people are aware that TWD is likely to change the status of our groundwater from public to quasi-private property, and leave it even more vulnerable to pilfering by the State's water authorities.





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."

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

A Successful Launch

We got them talking!

Groundwater For Butte made its media debut yesterday with a well-attended press conference and ballot-ripping event. We made our case with speeches, maps, graphic posters and handouts, all based on months of hard work by our volunteers. 

Jeffrey Obser, G4B's Communications Director, explains why the Tuscan Water District is undemocratic, July 18, 2023.
Photo: Chico Enterprise-Record.

Local journalists came out in force to our spot under a graceful old oak at Durham Community Park, and gamely strove to understand, in about an hour, what some of us here at G4B have been struggling to lay out in layman's terms for many months.

We are grateful for the hard work of reporters from:

NSPR, 91.7 FM

The Chico Enterprise-Record

Action News Now Chico

KRCR Redding

Chico Sol

... and any others we might not have noticed, in the midst of a healthy crowd of over 50 who turned up to express their objections to groundwater management trends in Butte County.

Special thanks go out to Jay Knight and Francine Stuelpnagel for sharing their personal stories and concerns about where things are headed in their own corners of Butte County, as well as Susan Schrader, a Chico resident who pointed out the risks to the local ecology and her own shallow well. 

We'd like to point out one small error in the reporting – hardly surprising considering how fast these professionals have to try to convey such complex matters to their audiences.

(We at G4B made one of our own yesterday - Francine Stuelpnagel was listed in our press packet as being a Grubbs, when in fact, she is co-owner of GRUB CSA, a produce farm on West Sacramento Avenue that delivers fresh produce to member/subscribers and tables at the Saturday famers' market in Chico.)

This item at KRCR: "According to its own website, the Tuscan Water District would stretch over 102,000 acres, from the Tehama County line, south to the Durham area, covering the Vina and Butte water Sub-Basins." (This refers to the TWD's website, not ours.)

The problem word here is "covering;" the Tuscan Water District would in fact only overlay about half the Vina and a tiny portion of the Butte sub-basins. (The map at the top of this page illustrates the Vina and TWD footprints.)

The complexity of all these overlapping water-management districts and agencies, of course, is itself part of the problem we're facing.

There are some 14 new Groundwater Sustainability Agencies in Butte County alone. All require funding. The Vina GSA, which was set up to manage the area that encompasses the Tuscan Water District, is currently seeking an initial $3.09 per acre property-tax assessment.

Its area, unlike that of the TWD, includes Chico and Durham residents. The Vina GSA sent out a "protest vote" form in June, giving property owners a (mostly ceremonial) chance to reject the tax assessment.

In practice, anyone who doesn't actively fill out the form correctly with their APN number and mail it in has voted for the tax, by default.


We do too! But in between heat strokes, G4B and its brain trust of dedicated volunteer citizens are very much in motion, doing everything we can, with limited resources, to make sure neither big industrial agriculture, nor the State of California (which can be counted on to act in its interests), get hold of our still-public, and still-healthy, groundwater resources.

The next opportunity to voice your objections to the TWD, and hold our public officials' feet to the fire, comes at the Butte County Board of Supervisors meeting, Tuesday July 25 at 9 am. The Board is going to approve another Tuscan Water District election, which it claims it is required to do because LAFCo has asked it to do so. Whether or not that is true, it doesn't hurt to come, fill out a speakers' card, and let them know your opinion.

It's funny how nobody on that dias wants to own the Tuscan Water District, isn't it? Ed McLaughlin, a prominent TWD supporter, was at our press event and told a reporter that the Board of Supervisors asked area farmers to form the district in the first place because it didn't have the funds to take care of the problem. 

Could they be keeping the TWD at a distance from themselves in public because they sense it could backfire on them? Sorry! Too late. The motorcycle is revving its engines now. Stay tuned and be vigilant.


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."