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, 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.”
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.”
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.”
Tracy, CA (July 20, 2015) – The Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) received notice today of a draft Administrative Civil Liability Complaint. The complaint, issued by the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), proposes to penalize BBID in the amount of $1.5 million for exercising its senior water rights.
This unprecedented retaliatory action subjects the District to severe drought-related penalties, and furthers the devastating impacts to local farmers and ranchers.
“The State Board is choosing to make an arbitrary example out of BBID at the expense of our customers and the communities their hard work supports,” says BBID Board President Russell Kagehiro. “BBID will vigorously defend its rights to water and due process. The landowners and others that rely upon BBID’s senior water rights deserve no less.”
BBID is one of a handful of agencies that had challenged the SWRCB’s unlawful June 12, 2015 curtailment of water rights (Curtailment Notice). BBID challenged the SWRCB in a lawsuit, filed in Contra Costa County on June 26, 2015. In that lawsuit, BBID seeks substantial damages from the SWRCB for unlawfully taking BBID’s water rights as well as for the consequential harm resulting to landowners within BBID’s service area.
BBID has yet to have its day in court because the SWRCB has filed a procedural motion with the Contra Costa Superior Court divesting the court of jurisdiction to hear any requests for relief by BBID. The SWRCB has not only deprived BBID of due process protections and its rights to divert water by issuance of the Curtailment Notice, but also by filing motions that deprive any court of providing BBID with any relief until the case gets referred to a “neutral” county.
The SWRCB’s Curtailment Notice, press releases, and all other communications clearly articulate that the SWRCB has pre-determined, without any evidentiary support, that there is no water available for BBID under its water rights.
“This matter requires an impartial judge in order to achieve a fair resolution,” said Daniel Kelly, BBID’s general counsel. “The administrative body that issued the complaint cannot be expected to fairly evaluate the merits of the claim itself. The State Board’s action makes a mess of a very serious situation with very severe consequences.”
BBID will request a hearing before the SWRCB and also request that whatever Court eventually hears the underlying cases also hear the enforcement action.
BBID looks forward to the opportunity to cross examine SWRCB witnesses regarding the specific facts related to BBID’s diversions, the supposed unavailability of water at BBID’s point of diversion, and the role the SWRCB’s exceptions and waivers of enforcement played in the availability of water for BBID.
“We are confident that, through the appropriate civil discovery processes, BBID will establish that the SWRCB has been less than candid in the representations it has made about the Curtailment Notices and BBID’s lawful exercise of its water rights,” Kelly added.
Byron, CA (July 11, 2015) – The Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID) continues to battle over a “notice of curtailment” sent by the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), given with the intent to strip century-old water rights from family farms and farming based communities. In a recent court decision Friday, July 10, in Sacramento County, curtailment notices sent to West Side Irrigation District were ruled unconstitutional by Judge Shelleyanne W. L. Chang. This ruling demonstrates that the State’s dramatic, over-reaching curtailment actions for all impacted districts, including BBID, are not only inappropriate and dangerous, but also illegal.
On Friday, Judge Chang issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) that blocks the enforcement of the curtailment notice, citing that the notices “result in a taking of petitioners’ property rights without a pre-deprivation hearing.” While the order is specific to the West Side Irrigation District, the Superior Court ruling and TRO have significant relevance to the court action waged by BBID to halt similar curtailment notices.
“The water right holders are absolutely vindicated by this ruling, which soundly rejects the coercive attempts by the SWRCB to curtail senior rights without a sound basis for doing so. The Court appropriately rejected the Attorney General’s failed attempts to backtrack on the Notices,” says Daniel Kelly, General Counsel for BBID. Attorneys in the West Side Irrigation District case stated that as a result of the ruling, “all curtailments sent to water users are now equally unconstitutional.” A total of 9,329 water rights have been cut off so far this year, according to the state.
“The implication of the Sacramento ruling is clear as it pertains to our case,” says Russell Kagehiro, BBID Board President. “Our position all along is that these curtailment notices were illegal, and sent without due process for water rights holders. We are very encouraged by the ruling and what it might mean in our continuing legal action.”
Access to water diversion for farming purposes in the BBID service area was established in the early 1900s and has been the lifeblood of the community and family farms here. The curtailment notice is nothing short of catastrophic. If enforced, the curtailment notice will strangle family farms, kill vital crops, compromise livestock, raise consumer prices, eliminate thousands of jobs, and ultimately destroy the ability to farm the land.
The deleterious effects of the illegal notices could have a significant impact on California’s recovering economy.
“We serve 160-plus farming families through our service area,” says Rick Gilmore, General Manager of BBID. “The crops they grow feed not only California, but truly the entire nation. If enforced, the curtailment notice would devastate these families, and raise prices on all sorts of produce throughout the country. Hopefully we will see similar rulings in our case, the law is clear: these notices are simply unconstitutional.”
BBID provides water for literally thousands of acres of rich farmland that provide an abundant harvest of corn, tomatoes, alfalfa, grapes, cherries, walnuts and more, plus ample ranch land. Farmers and ranchers are some of the best defenders of natural resources here in California, and should not be targeted by the state Water Board as a group to be punished.
BBID continues to assess the issue of water availability and is currently not diverting water under its pre-1914 appropriative water rights. This most recent court ruling echoes BBID’s position and the Board feels confident a similar conclusion will result from current legal action initiated by BBID.
“Whatever the ultimate decision with respect to diversions of water for BBID, we will vigorously defend our water rights for our customers and will seek damages from the SWRCB and State of California, not only for the coercive actions of the SWRCB, but also for the unlawful taking of BBID’s water rights through the issuance of the Notice and threats of enforcement,” added Kelly.