TUSCAN WATER DISTRICT, IN BLACK, IS A TROJAN HORSE FOR OUTSIDE INTERESTS TO SEIZE OUR GROUNDWATER.

TWD ELECTIONS

The 2023 Vote: TWD Established But Lacks Funding

On Dec. 5, 2023, Tuscan Water District 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 budget. 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.

If enough property owners realized by the next round that giving the biggest pumpers a blank check to manage our groundwater might not be the best idea, TWD could still founder. 

But in that case, or maybe even before a vote, the TWD's hidden godparent, the State Department of Water Resources, could potentially rescue it with California taxpayer grants.

That would mean using taxpayer funds to prop up a semi-private government entity controlled by wealthy landowners. But in the age of SGMA, many egregious abuses of the public trust have already taken place around the state.

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.

Groundwater For Butte emerged in 2023 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.

The voter information pamphlet included our robust opposition statement and rebuttal to the proponents' argument in favor of TWD:

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ARGUMENT AGAINST FORMATION OF THE TUSCAN WATER DISTRICT 

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.

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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

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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.

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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.

A CLEAN, SIMPLE, INEXPENSIVE KITCHEN SINK.
NO WATER FLOWS: THE OWNER'S WELL RAN DRY.


The 2022 Vote: A Farce Nobody Wanted To Talk About.


THIS FATALLY FLAWED BALLOT WAS THE FIRST MANY TAXPAYERS EVER HEARD OF THE TUSCAN WATER DISTRICT.

The Tuscan Water District application process at LAFCo (Butte Local Area Formation Comission) seems to have been a shambles from the start. Petitioners made errors in the application, and LAFCo overlooked the obvious defects. For example, the application was required to disclose what the new district would do; the applicants refused to say, other than “carry out Vina GSA projects”.

In February, 2022, after the Vina GSA decided the groundwater could sink without worry to depths far lower than previously considered tolerable, Butte Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo) approved the Agriculture Groundwater Users of Butte County’s (AGUBC) application to form the Tuscan Water District.

Scores of concerned citizens had showed up to meetings, voicing and writing their opposition to TWD, but to no avail. In April 2022, the Board of Supervisors directed the Clerk-Recorder to conduct a mail ballot election on September 20.

The Clerk-Recorder, or perhaps a proxy, failed to give statutorily required mailed notice of the election to district landowners.

It appears there were three serious errors in the attempted conduct of the September 20 election, and there might have been a fourth error, had the ballots been counted.

First, The Clerk-Recorder, or perhaps a proxy, failed to give statutorily required mailed notice of the election to district landowners.


Second, in “water district” elections, State law defines a “voter” as “a person who is a holder of title.” The Clerk-Recorder did not provide ballots only to “persons” who were shown as holders of title. Ballots were mailed to corporations and limited-liability companies that were holders of title within the proposed district.  Indeed, a ballot with the largest number of votes in the cancelled election (almost 12,000 out of about 100,000) votes was sent to Farmland Reserve, Inc., the Salt Lake City nonprofit corporation that owns land farmed by the Church of Latter-Day Saints.

Third, in water-district formation elections, votes are allocated among voters based on the assessed value of land held. The Clerk-Recorder prepared ballots allocating votes based on the number of acres owned. These two methods result in very different vote allocations because a substantial portion of the agricultural acreage within the proposed Tuscan Water District has lower assessments under the Land Conservation (Williamson) Act. 

Landowners on less than 20 acres are ineligible for Williamson Act subsidies, and generally have per-acre assessed values 1.5 to 5 times the per-acre values enjoyed by large agricultural landowners.

The Clerk-Recorder’s error thus shifted voting power unfairly toward those already benefitting from Williamson Act relief, and against those small landowners who pay taxes based on the full assessed value of their land.

Finally, there is nothing in the ballot materials suggesting that the Clerk-Recorder would have enforced the Proposition 13 requirement that the parcel tax to support the TWD requires a two-thirds vote for passage. 

There were several other defects. Application proponents had failed to file campaign finance disclosures as required by State law, but LAFCo approved the founding resolution anyway. It also failed to specify the ballot questions, failed to indicate what would constitute a successful vote, and misstated the allocation of votes among voters.


WE THOUGHT GROUNDWATER PUMPERS ALREADY HAD A SEAT AT THE TABLE. 
IN FACT A FEW OF THEM SEEM TO OWN THE TABLE.

One result is that the voter information pamphlet, which arrived with the ballot, contained no argument in opposition to the Tuscan Water District. Only individuals recruited by the AGUBC had submitted nomination packets for election as directors, so voters had a choice of 9 out of 11 insiders to take their taxes. 

After the deadline for ballots to be submitted, letters were sent to the Clerk-Recorder pointing out the failure to give notice and Proposition 13's clear requirement that the parcel tax get a two-thirds majority to pass. 


One letter included an analysis of the voting requirement from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers’ Association.

The night before the ballots were to be counted (September 28), the Clerk-Recorder announced the Tuscan Water District election had been cancelled. A subsequent letter from LAFCo to the Board of Supervisors blamed the Clerk-Recorder’s failure to provide mailed notice of the election.


There was almost no news reporting on this fiasco. Only Chico Sol, to its credit, reported the event. But there has been no deeper investigative reporting on the cancelled election's roots in a process that was flawed and secretive from the beginning, and continues to be.


On February 2 of this year, LAFCo approved a one-year extension for the Tuscan Water District's application. A new protest vote was held with a deadline of May 5, 2023, and it failed (meaning not enough voters actively said "no," so everyone else's non-vote was considered to be a "yes" - see our update for details). 


The Board of Supervisors will soon take up the matter of approving a second Tuscan Water District election, much like the first one. Stay tuned!



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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".