Federal Drought Relief Might Be On The Way for A.C.I.D.

After months of debilitating drought caused by federal water cuts and local water sales, the Anderson-Cottonwood Irrigation District may be receiving up to $3.6 million in federal drought relief funds.

11/14/22 7:03 pm: We have updated this story to indicate that we have not yet clarified whether drought relief funds could legally be distributed among A.C.I.D. users.

Members of the A.C.I.D. board listen to an October 19 presentation regarding drought funding from General Manager Jered Shipley.

During a special meeting held Thursday October 19,  the Anderson-Cottonwood Irrigation District board (A.C.I.D.) voted to accept a resolution authorizing the powerful water group it belongs to, the Sacramento River Settlement Contractors, to negotiate for, accept, and distribute federal drought relief funds on the district’s behalf.

During the meeting, A.C.I.D. general manager Jered Shipley presented the A.C.I.D. board with a letter from the Bureau of Reclamation stating that drought relief funds of up to $60 million have been identified as a potential payout for districts within the Sacramento River Settlement Contractors group, including A.C.I.D.

Money received by the contractors group would be distributed pro rata, or in equal proportions, among the water districts within the settlement group, Shipley said, making A.C.I.D. eligible for up to about $3.6 million in funds. 

It’s the first indication that money could be on the way to alleviate some of the suffering caused by the lack of federal water allocations to A.C.I.D. this year.

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After A.C.I.D. and other members of the Sacramento River Settlement Contractors group agreed to allow the federal Bureau of Reclamation to cut water allocations for all water districts within the group by 82 percent, the local board of A.C.I.D. sold off the remaining 18 percent of the district’s water, saying it would not be enough to travel down the canal to be equitably distributed to irrigators. 

Left without irrigation water, locals have sold their livestock, reported newly dry domestic wells, and seen fields turn to star thistle and dust.  James Rickert, an agricultural real estate appraiser and organic strawberry farmer who lives in the district’s service area, said he has sold his own four cattle, including Thistle and Gloria, two cows grown from calves his children named and bottle-fed.

Rickert launched a campaign to take A.C.I.D. President Brenda Haynes’ seat on the board several months ago. Preliminary voting results show he is likely to replace her.

Election results are still preliminary but show James Rickert likely to take Brenda Haynes’ seat. These vote totals were released by the Shasta County elections office on Friday, November 11, 2022.

Rickert was the only member of the public present at the board meeting last month when the drought relief funds were briefly discussed as a part of a special board meeting held within the A.C.I.D. office. The special meeting was called only a few days after the last regular board meeting because of the need to address the time-sensitive nature of Reclamation’s letter, A.C.I.D. general manager Shipley said.

Three board members attended the meeting, including president Brenda Haynes, Ray Eliante and Audie Butcher. They unanimously agreed to pass the resolution authorizing the Sacramento River Settlement Contractors to negotiate on their behalf for federal drought relief funds.

While no one from A.C.I.D. currently serves on the elected board of the contractor group, Roger Cornwell, chair of the Sacramento River Settlement Contractors, said members of the A.C.I.D. board could run to fill those board seats and have a larger voice in the decisions of the group, if desired. “They haven’t been seeking out a leadership role,” Cornwell said, “but they’re always welcome.”  

The board normally manages a $2 million annual budget, according to a recent board agenda packet, but between water transfer revenue of approximately $7.4 million this year and pending drought relief funds of up to $3.6 million, the board will be managing significantly more money in the days ahead. Some or all of that money could be allocated by the board to be used for increased staffing, water conservation efforts, canal improvements or other uses.

On Thursday, November 10, the A.C.I.D. board approved a budget subcommittee to develop spending priorities for the 2023 fiscal year, including how the drought relief funds might be spent. The budget subcommittee will include board members Dan Woolery and Audie Butcher, the district’s general manager Shipley, and the district’s chief financial officer, Terri White.

While A.C.I.D.’s board could keep federal drought relief funds for use at the district level, it’s not yet clear whether they could also distribute the money back to water users, many of whom are facing significant drought-related expenses, including the need to regrade and reseed pastures this fall. The approximate maximum drought relief funding available, $3.6 million dollars, would amount to roughly $5,000 each if it could be divided equally among the district’s more than 700 irrigators. 

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This article is part of a Shasta Scout series about the causes and effects of and solutions to water shortages within the Anderson-Cottonwood Irrigation District (A.C.I.D.). You can see the rest of the series here. If you have a personal experience to share or questions you’d like answered, contact us at [email protected] or on Facebook or Instagram. Do you have a correction to this story? Submit it here.

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