Anderson Cottonwood Irrigation District (A.C.I.D.) board president Brenda Haynes knows the value of water. She’s raised cattle within A.C.I.D. for over twenty years, been a board member of the district since 2001 and worked for Congressman and rice farm owner Doug LaMalfa since 2005.
But in April of this year, Haynes, along with her entire board, accepted a decision by the federal Bureau of Reclamation to cut 2022 water allocations to A.C.I.D. by 82 percent, leaving A.C.I.D. with an amount so small, according to board documents, that it could not be equitably distributed to the district’s nearly 800 irrigators. The same day, the A.C.I.D. board sold off the district’s remaining water allocations, leaving the entire district without water.
The Anderson Cottonwood Irrigation District (A.C.I.D.) has supplied local irrigators for over 100 years. Over that time, a naturalized ecosystem dependent on the A.C.I.D. water system has developed within the district boundaries. Both human residents and other parts of the ecosystem have come to depend on this water, which not only provides irrigation but also refills groundwater supplies, contributing to local wells and ponds.
That’s why many community members think Haynes and the rest of the board should have been fighting harder to protect their senior water rights. Residents have been vocal over the months since the water cuts and water sales, speaking up both in public meetings and via a public Facebook group for district water users.
James Rickert is an A.C.I.D. resident and rancher who recently announced he will run against Haynes for a position on the board in August. He acknowledges that Haynes and others on the board were “in a really tough position” after the severe Reclamation cuts, but he also says the board should have considered using legal action to push back against state and federal government agencies in support of district irrigators.
Haynes said she doesn’t think any resident could have made a better decision than she and others on the board did. “I would like to know what (Rickert) would have done differently,” Haynes said in a two-hour interview with Shasta Scout a few weeks ago, noting that the board voted unanimously to sell the district’s water. She emphasized that not pushing back against Reclamation’s decisions is in the best long-term interest of the district’s water users.
Many governmental decisions contributed to A.C.I.D.’s lack of water this year. Over more than six weeks of investigation so far, including dozens of interviews at the local, state, and federal levels, Shasta Scout has been working to understand what happened and why.
Here’s some of what we know so far.
How did A.C.I.D. Prepare for Likely Water Reductions?
In a staff report to the board dated November 4, 2021, Currey outlined that he was attending drought preparation meetings with federal, state, and regional agencies and was working on developing a plan for A.C.I.D. to respond to the ongoing drought.
On March 2, Currey presented that drought management plan to the board. “Given the uncertainties of district water supplies for 2022,” Currey’s report reads, “it is prudent to consider extraordinary measures to be implemented in response to critically dry hydrological conditions and the expectation of a reduced water supply.” While Reclamation had not yet told A.C.I.D. and other Sacramento River Settlement Contractors what percentage of water allocations would be granted, Currey wrote, the federal agency had made it clear that significant cuts might be necessary.
Currey’s letter to the board included hydrology reports and recommendations for how the irrigation season could be maintained given different possible water allocations. In a separate report, Currey also documented the need for a new pump to help maintain water flow to users within the Churn Creek Bottom area, who do not receive water from the main canal, but from a pumping system directly out of the Sacramento River.
The board reviewed Currey’s recommendations during their March 10 meeting, but did not put in place a drought management plan or decide to purchase an additional pump. Board minutes record them taking no action on both items.
How Did A.C.I.D. Respond to Reclamation’s 82 Percent Cut In District Water Allocations?
The official news that the federal government would only grant 18 percent of A.C.I.D.’s typical water allocation came via a letter from Reclamation on April 14.
The board was informed of the reduction in allocation at their meeting that same day. In addition to the water cuts, Currey told them, Reclamation would also not approve changes in when A.C.I.D. could divert their water from the Sacramento River, which would have allowed the district to front-load the water distribution to the earlier months of the irrigation season. Doing so would have helped to improve the flow of the reduced amount of water down the canal to all users in the district.
The combination of these decisions, Currey wrote to the board, meant A.C.I.D. would not be able to distribute water to irrigators in 2022. He recommended the 2022 irrigation season be canceled, saying he was doing so on the advice of legal counsel.
The board responded by canceling the A.C.I.D. 2022 irrigation season and voting to explore selling the district’s remaining water.
What Options Other Than Canceling the Irrigation Season and Selling the Water Did the Board Consider?
A.C.I.D. Board President Brenda Haynes has stated repeatedly in public meetings that the board had no other option than to cancel the irrigation season and sell the remaining water allocation to other water districts. That decision was not discretionary, she’s said, because no other decision could have been made given the reduction in water allocation and the design of the A.C.I.D. canal.
But many in the district disagree, saying the Board could have considered options like legal action or the threat of legal action against Reclamation or using the 18 percent water allocation within the district to help restore groundwater supplies. Another option might have been to supplement A.C.I.D.’s allocation by buying water from other districts using the approximately $4 million in surplus funds A.C.I.D. had accumulated from selling water in previous years.
The A.C.I.D. board minutes do not record any evidence of conversations or discussions regarding any of these options prior to the board’s decision to sell the district’s remaining water allocation. An undated document on the district’s website titled
“2022 Water Allocation and Transfer Recap” ostensibly provides a recap of the board’s decisions, including the cost of buying water for the district. But information included in that document, such as the purchase price of water for the district, is never recorded in board minutes. As a special California district, the A.C.I.D. board is bound by the Brown Act, meaning they may not discuss such decisions outside of publicly accessible board meetings.
When Did the Board Sell the District’s Remaining Water Allocations?
On April 14, the same day the board voted to cancel the 2022 A.C.I.D. irrigation season, they entered a closed-session meeting with other water districts to negotiate the sale of the district’s remaining water allocation. The board had been holding similar closed-session negotiations for their water rights with other districts for months, despite not knowing how much of their water rights would be allocated by Reclamation, or whether they would be able to provide irrigation to users.
Later that same afternoon, although they had just authorized their General Manager to begin searching for potential buyers, the board sold the district’s remaining water allocation for over $10 million. After Reclamation fees, the district’s net profit came out to approximately $7.5 million.
How Will the Board Use the Money from the Sale of A.C.I.D.’s 18 Percent Water Allocation?
So far the A.C.I.D. board has not voted on how they will use the $7.5 million gained through sales of the district’s remaining water allocation. In informal comments to the public during board meetings, Haynes has said the district feels the money should be used to improve the A.C.I.D. canal system. The Board has not yet discussed what specific projects might be undertaken or at what cost.
The minutes don’t record any board discussion of alternative options for that funding, such as saving it to buy additional water next year to supplement the district’s water if its allocation is cut again or distributing the money among A.C.I.D. users, many of whom are experiencing economic loss as a result of the lack of irrigation water.
How Has The Board Responded to the Impact of the Lack of Water in A.C.I.D.’s Service Area?
On April 14, when Currey told the board he was recommending that there be no irrigation season this year, he also asked the board to consider taking action to respond to emergency needs for livestock water and dry wells likely to develop without any water allocation. But after deciding to cancel the irrigation season and sell the remaining water allocation, the board tabled Currey’s suggestion to provide emergency support to users for livestock and dry wells. At their following meeting, the board voted not to provide such support.
Shasta County has accessed state grant funding which is assisting some residents of the A.C.I.D. service area whose wells have gone dry, but the district itself has not taken any action to alleviate the comprehensive problems being caused by the district’s lack of water.
The board has also not discussed any response to, or communication with, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) regarding the environmental impacts of the lack of A.C.I.D. water on thousands of acres of publicly-owned land within the water district. Like other district customers, CDFW did not receive any water from A.C.I.D. this year due to the water allocation cuts and sales. Shasta Scout is continuing to investigate CDFW’s response to the cuts from Reclamation and A.C.I.D.’s subsequent water sales.
Who is the General Manager of A.C.I.D. now?
On June 9, during a closed session of the A.C.I.D. board, former General Manager John Currey and his Associate General Manager, Emmy Westlake, both resigned from their positions with A.C.I.D, effective June 30. Those resignations followed a series of almost monthly closed-session performance evaluations of Currey by the board.
On July 14, the board reinstated former A.C.I.D. Chief Financial Officer Terri White as temporary CFO and acting General Manager. White had recently retired from her long-term position as Assistant General Manager and CFO for the district, in December 2021. The board did not discuss replacing or closing the position of CFO when White resigned.
The A.C.I.D. board continues to search for a new General Manager for the district.
Resource: A Community Information event organized by the A.C.I.D. Water Users Association and A.C.I.D. will be held this Tuesday, August 30, from 4–6 pm at the Anderson City Hall and Community Center.
This story is part of Shasta Scout’s ongoing coverage about the causes, effects and solutions to water shortages within the Anderson Cottonwood Irrigation District (A.C.I.D.). You can read the other stories in our A.C.I.D. 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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