Detachment, Legal Battle Spur Water Rate Increase

Byron, CA (May 17, 2016) – For the first time in more than two decades, Byron-Bethany Irrigation District’s (BBID) Board of Directors voted Tuesday to authorize an increase to the District’s uniform, agricultural water rate. The move comes in the midst of BBID’s ongoing legal battle with the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) to protect BBID’s senior water rights, at the same time the District stands to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in property tax revenue.

“We know it will be difficult for our farmers and ranchers to shoulder this additional burden,” said BBID General Manager Rick Gilmore. “BBID has been able to keep the same, low rate in place for more than 20 years, but recent events made today’s action unavoidable to protect the financial stability of the District.”

Earlier this year, Contra Costa County moved to pursue detachment of portions of the town of Discovery Bay from the BBID service area, an area that generated $685,000 in annual property revenue. BBID expects to lose half of that revenue in 2016, and the full amount by 2017. Meanwhile, the SWRCB’s attack on BBID’s water rights has resulted in an expensive – but critically necessary – legal fight to protect the pre-1914 water rights that provide the foundation for the District’s reliable water deliveries its growers depend on.

Tuesday’s vote at the end of a public hearing concluded the Proposition 218 process that began with a cost of service study by an independent rate consultant. Based on the consultant’s recommendations, the Board authorized a 2016 agricultural water rate no higher than $102 per acre foot, but ultimately decided to set this year’s rate at $65 per acre foot, opting to use financial reserves to soften the blow to BBID’s growers. The previous rate was $20 per acre foot. The change will take effect on June 1st.

In other business, the Board announced general counsel Dan Kelly is moving on at the end of this month, leaving private practice to join a public agency. Kelly was presented with a framed resolution recognizing his dedicated service the past several years.

“Dan’s tireless passion and unparalleled legal expertise will be missed,” said BBID Board of Directors President Russell Kagehiro. “Right now, we are fighting to protect our water rights – fighting for the very future of our District, and Dan has led that charge. For that, we will be forever grateful.”

Byron-Bethany Irrigation District Leaders Call Central Valley Project Allocation “Absurd”

Byron, CA (April 1, 2016) – Prayers for rain were finally answered across Northern California, but farmers in Byron-Bethany Irrigation District’s (BBID) Central Valley Project (CVP) service area near Tracy were dealt another potentially catastrophic blow Friday. Despite above-average rainfall and a Sierra snowpack nearing normal levels, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced a 5% allocation for south-of-Delta CVP contractors.

“Today’s paltry allocation announcement is nothing short of absurd,” said BBID General Manager Rick Gilmore. “It is the result of rigid and ultimately ineffective environmental regulations that prioritize fish while punishing the people provide food for California and the rest of the country.”

Growers and ranchers in BBID’s 6000-acre, CVP service area in San Joaquin County have already struggled to endure three straight years of zero-percent supply from the CVP, forced into purchasing supplemental water at skyrocketing, unsustainable rates for the very survival of their multi-generational family farms. An El Nino winter brought desperately-needed precipitation and rekindled hope of an improved allocation this year.

“While a 5% allocation is better than nothing, it will ultimately do little to avert the disaster facing our farmers whose livelihoods are being threatened, not only by the drought, but by failed regulations and crippling mismanagement,” Gilmore added. “Holding water back from our communities has provided no measurable benefit to the fisheries.”

BBID leaders joined the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority (SLDMWA) and the Westlands Water District (WWD), in expressing pointed criticism of the Bureau’s allocation announcement. The SLDWA said in a news release it was “furious,” while WWD released a statement calling the allocation “grossly inadequate.” Meanwhile, in late March, Senator Diane Feinstein penned a letter urging President Obama to direct maximized Delta pumping allowable under the law, citing the highest flows on the Sacramento River in four years.

However, the latest data on Friday showed that of the more than 40,000 cubic feet per second (CFS) flowing into the Delta, more than 37,000 CFS – or 95% of the water flowing into the Delta – is being sent out to the ocean.

“At some point, logic and reason must rule the day,” Gilmore said. “We understand the need to carefully evaluate our water supply given the drought, but hoarding water for fish while sacrificing our crops and our farmers flies in the face of good governance and common sense. The future of our communities is at stake.”

Byron-Bethany Irrigation District Welcomes Progress In Possible Detachment Process in Discovery Bay

Byron, CA (December 8, 2015) – Following open dialogue with Byron Bethany Irrigation District (BBID), officials with the Discovery Bay Community Services District (DBCSD) are moving forward with the process of possible detachment of overlapping service areas. Portions of the Town where BBID has been receiving property tax revenue has been within BBID for over a century and received a surface water supply under the District’s pre-1914 water right.

At its regular board meeting of December 2nd, DBCSD unanimously passed a non-binding resolution in support of the detachment process. The action followed a November 23rd BBID board meeting, during which BBID’s Board of Directors met directly with DBSCD and officials with the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors, encouraging all interested parties to speak openly and make positive progress toward a resolution.

“We appreciate that DBSCD has taken a clear, public position on this matter,” said BBID Board President Russell Kagehiro. “We recognize the need for honesty and transparency regarding this complex and important issue. In the weeks and and months ahead, we will continue building common ground to reach a careful, reasonable and responsible solution.”

Contra Costa County Supervisors on November 17th voted unanimously, 5-0, to ask the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) in San Joaquin County to consider the detachment of parts of Discovery Bay from BBID. Contra Costa County’s sudden pursuit of detachment surprised and concerned BBID’s Board of Directors, as it remains uncertain whether detachment could compromise the future water supply of Discovery Bay.

“Although detachment will cause a sizable water rate increase for BBID customers within Contra Costa County’s agricultural core and eastern Alameda County, the District understands the position taken by the Town of Discovery Bay”, said BBID General Manager Rick Gilmore.

The matter rests in the hands of LAFCO, the agency responsible for coordinating changes to local government boundaries, including annexations, consolidations and detachments. It is specifically charged by law with encouraging the orderly formation and development of all the governmental agencies within its jurisdiction.

“This process still requires a great deal of thought and measured discussion between all stakeholders,” said BBID Board Vice President Tim Maggiore. “We look forward to LAFCO’s thorough examination as we move toward a decision that satisfies not only BBID’s constituents, but our neighboring agency’s.”

Byron-Bethany Irrigation District Welcomes Open Discussion on Possible Detachment Process in Town of Discovery Bay

Byron, CA (November 24, 2015) – At a regular board meeting Monday, Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) initiated an open, transparent line of communication among the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors and the Discovery Bay Community Services District (DBCSD) related to a possible detachment process of overlapping service areas. Currently, the property tax revenue paid by the affected residents of the Town of Discovery Bay helps ensure the future water supply of the growing residential community. Contra Costa County Supervisor Mary Piepho’s Chief of Staff Tomi Riley addressed the BBID Board, clarifying some issues and participating in much of the discussion.

“We sincerely appreciate the opportunity to speak directly on this matter in an open, public forum,” said BBID Board President Russell Kagehiro. “This meeting set a stage toward positive progress, working collaboratively with all interested parties. While Supervisor Piepho was unable to attend the meeting, we appreciate Ms. Riley bringing light to some of our primary concerns.”

The BBID agenda item was in response to the November 17 Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors’ action asking the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) in San Joaquin County to consider the detachment of portions of the Town of Discovery Bay from BBID. Contra Costa County’s pursuit of detachment concerns the BBID Board of Directors as it represents a hasty, premature step with unknown implications. In Ms. Riley’s comments, she specifically addressed inconsistencies in recent communications from Piepho’s office concerning BBID’s finances.

“We need to slow down the train,” added Kagehiro. “This discussion was essential to ensure we maintain an open dialogue with all stakeholders. There are many potential consequences with detachment. This is not a decision that can be made too hastily, and the conversation needs to include everyone.”

Rick Howard, general manager of the DBCSD, addressed the BBID Board and commented that the Town of Discovery Bay had not taken a formal position on this matter, but also welcomed the open communication among agencies. Also present at the meeting were more than a dozen BBID agricultural customers and several Discovery Bay residents.

“As this matter heads to LAFCO, we look forward to participating openly with our neighboring agencies recognizing the interests of all constituents,” said BBID Board Vice President Tim Maggiore. “This is a long road ahead that requires thoughtful evaluation and analysis.”

Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors Vote Triggers Possible Detachment Process in Town of Discovery Bay

Byron, CA (November 17, 2015) – In a unanimous 5-0 decision, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors voted to ask the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) in San Joaquin County to consider the detachment of portions of the Town of Discovery Bay from the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID). Currently, the property tax revenue paid by the affected residents of Discovery Bay helps ensure the future water supply of this growing residential community. The authorization of the application represents the beginning of a formal process that could jeopardize the needs of the community moving forward.

“We are absolutely puzzled by the Board’s premature action on this issue,” says BBID Board President Russell Kagehiro. “All interested parties are in the very early stages of the analysis of rates, services and impacts, and the relationship between the Town of Discovery Bay and BBID. Without further review of the future water supply needs of Discovery Bay, particularly in light of a historic drought, this authorization is irresponsible.”

In the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors’ consideration of the item, county staff was asked to prepare a series of documents needed for the Board to pursue detachment of the overlapping tax rate areas for water service between BBID and the Discovery Bay Community Services District. In the staff report made public on November 13th, that early examination clearly states that the true impacts are unknown. The document affirms the following:

The MSR [Municipal Service Review] also noted that further study is needed to fully analyze the service and fiscal implications of such a detachment to both the residents and BBID.

Among the unanswered questions are how the Town of Discovery Bay will receive water in the future and how current BBID customers’ water rates will be impacted if the district loses this tax revenue. Currently, the nearly $685,000 received annually by BBID through the property tax allocation contributes to the organization’s general fund and allows for the development and protection of future water supply as well as basic operations. While this tax revenue could be allocated to another service, Discovery Bay residents will not see a reduction in their property tax assessments as a result of any future LAFCO decision.

In further action during today’s meeting, the Board of Supervisors directed the County Administrator to explore allocation of the BBID property tax revenues from the overlap areas to the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District (ECCFPD), a decision that could blur current negotiations among the affected agencies. Earlier this month, the BBID Board of Directors directed staff to develop a proposal that would bring more than $1 million to ECCFPD over five years.

“We recognize that we need to help and we have a current offer on the table that would bring real relief, “ says BBID Board Member Larry Enos. “But we cannot do this on the backs of local farmers and ranchers. Our proposal balances the current need for fire services with the future need for a reliable water supply, without putting an already hard-hit agriculture community at greater risk”

LAFCO is the agency responsible for coordinating changes to local government boundaries, including annexations, consolidations and detachments. It is specifically charged by law with encouraging the orderly formation and development of all the governmental agencies within its jurisdiction.

“It is incumbent upon the LAFCO organizations in our region to study this issue completely before moving forward,” adds BBID Board Vice President Tim Maggiore. “Anything short of that is inconsistent with good governance and will only lead to fractured relationships.”

Northern California Water Districts Gather to Celebrate Success of Emergency Water Project

Byron, CA (August 25, 2015) – On August 25, 2015, nearly 100 employees, board members and neighbors gathered at Byron-Bethany Irrigation District to honor the heroic measures taken by the San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority several weeks ago when the organization literally changed the direction of the Delta-Mendota Canal for the first time in history. The emergency “Pump Back Program” was a desperate drought project – the first of its kind designed to keep six area water districts from going dry.

“Our team accomplished the impossible,” says Frances Mizuno, Assistant Executive Director of San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority, which operates the canal. “Moving water in the opposite direction while facing daunting time constraints was nothing short of amazing. This team is to be applauded for their tenacity and hard work.”

The $700,000 project was led by Engineering Director Bob Martin and involved the installation of several massive pumps in three locations over a six-week period between May and July. The project allowed canal water to be lifted 18 feet along 62 miles from the San Luis Reservoir to the City of Tracy. The result was more than 80,000 acre-feet of banked water in the San Luis Reservoir to get the water agencies through the summer. The districts include the Del Puerto Water District, the West Stanislaus Irrigation District, the Patterson Irrigation District, the Banta-Carbona Irrigation District, Byron-Bethany Irrigation District and the City of Tracy.

“This quick thinking and unconventional solution brought a real success story in our region during an otherwise extremely dire period,” says Rick Gilmore, General Manager of Byron-Bethany Irrigation District. “Recent actions by the State Water Board have meant that we simply do not have the water we need to meet the needs of our customers. We are grateful to the San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority for providing our farmers and ranchers with a lifeline.”