In Shasta County, Some Residents Of A.C.I.D Face Devastating Consequences From Federal Water Cutbacks

This year, after the federal government severely reduced water allocations to the Anderson Cottonwood Irrigation District (A.C.I.D.), the board of A.C.I.D. sold off the rest of the district’s allocated water, saying it would not travel far enough through the system to benefit residents. The board appears to be still holding the $7.5 million in revenue from those water sales. Meanwhile, some residents of A.C.I.D. are struggling to access enough water for their daily living needs. They’re confused, angry, and wondering where to find help to survive.

The Anderson-Cottonwood Irrigation District (A.C.I.D.) supplies around 800 Shasta County residents with water diverted from the Sacramento River, distributing it across approximately 35 miles of central canal.

It’s a process that’s provided water for local residents for decades. But that changed earlier this year when the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) told A.C.I.D. that the district’s water allocation would be cut by 82 percent. That left the district without enough water flow to allow to distribute even the remaining 18 percent, given the design of the district’s water system, according to a March report by former A.C.I.D. manager John Currey.

With that report in hand, in April the the A.C.I.D. board decided they had no choice but to sell off the remaining district water to other districts for a net revenue of around $7.5 million, leaving A.C.I.D without any water allocation at all.

Staff Report from former A.C.I.D. General Manager, John Currey, who submitted his resignation to the board for unknown reasons in early June. Source: A.C.I.D. Board minutes, p. 4.

The lack of water has produced devastating results for residents of Shasta County living within A.C.I.D., including Katie Walden, the owner of Floranthropist, a local floral shop in downtown Redding, who says she bought 10 acres within the district in the last few years. Prior to purchasing her property, Walden did her research on water sources, she says, because you can’t grow flowers without water. Her land was irrigated by A.C.I.D. water and the well on her property was in good condition.

But earlier this year, Walden lost her usual water supply due to the BOR cutbacks and A.C.I.D water sales. Then her well dried up.

Since then, she says she and her husband have spent $5000 to buy and install a water tank on their property. They’ve spent another $384 dollars every eight days to have water trucked in to refill that tank, just to supply their household needs. Walden lives with her husband and four teenage and young adult children, and she says it’s not just farmers in the region who are struggling. For her and others, she says, the current lack of water has led to unsustainable expenses and a huge loss to quality of life. 

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The family has gone to extreme lengths to conserve household water to ensure they don’t need the tank refilled any more often, or at any higher cost, Walden said. They now shower at the gym and take clothes to the laundromat for cleaning, she explained, but still use the family dishwasher because research shows it’s the most water-efficient way to do dishes. 

Watering her half-acre fledgling flower farm, the whole reason she bought the Churn Creek Bottom property, is no longer a top priority, she told Shasta Scout during an interview last week. She’s still watering the flowers a little, despite the cost, but the rest of her 10 acres, which receives no water at all, has been taken over by drought-resistant thistles.

Walden’s says her flowers, grown to supply her local florist business, are dying due to lack of water. Photo courtesy, Katie Walden.

Leaving her dreams of a flower farm aside, and despite her family’s new conservation efforts, Walden says her monthly water costs just for home use now hover around $1200, an amount that is not sustainable for her middle-class family. She’s looked into solving the problem with a deeper well, but just digging the hole for that well is likely to cost Walden $12,000, she says, and that doesn’t include the pump, tank, and plumbing to bring water from the well to her home.

Asked whether she’s looked into a newly announced grant opportunity for county residents affected by drought, Walden throws up her hands. “Yea, it’s for people who make under $62,000,” she said, “And not many of us who live in this area do.” 

Walden’s story is one of many difficult situations being experienced by residents within A.C.I.D.’s service area. A Facebook page dedicated to the water district has more than 900 members and contains dozens of stories and pictures from residents, outlining how the lack of water has affected their land, their crops and animals, the environment, and their ability to maintain a reasonable quality of life. 

What Residents Does A.C.I.D. Serve? 

According to a 2006 report for A.C.I.D, the district’s service area extends south from the City of Redding, in Shasta County, to northern Tehama County, encompassing Anderson and Cottonwood, including approximately 32,000 acres and directly serving residents on approximately 7,000 acres.

Why Did the Bureau of Reclamation Cut Water Allocations to ACID? 

BOR’s decision to severely cut A.C.I.D.’s usual water allocation of 125,000 acre feet was unusual. That’s because A.C.ID.. has what are known in California as “senior water rights,” or pre-1914 water rights, meaning their access to water is given precedence over the needs of more junior water rights holders and is the least likely to be preempted by other water users’ needs. 

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But these are highly unusual times. As the effects of climate change deepen, California is struggling to survive a historic drought and soaring heat. And state and federal officials are struggling for solutions to a complex web of water needs across the state. Those include the needs of residents and small farmers like those in A.C.I.D. and elsewhere, but also the needs of big agriculture, and those they employ. Government officials are also hoping to save Chinook salmon, an important food source and vital component of California’s ecosystem, from extinction. Because Chinook salmon are a keystone species, their loss would create a domino effect of damage across California’s ecosystems, impacting far more than the fish themselves.

What Happened to the Rest of A.C.I.D.’s Water?

The severe reduction to A.C.I.D.’s water allocations from the federal government left the district with only 22,500 acre-feet in water, an amount that would come to the district in smaller allocations each month, according to statements made by board President Brenda Haynes during a recent radio interview. That amount of water is not enough to flow down the district’s earthen canal system to reach and benefit A.C.I.D. water district residents, Haynes said, leaving the board with no real choice other than to sell the remaining water for revenue. 

That’s what the A.C.I.D. board did in April, selling the water to several other water districts for revenue of $10 million gross, or around $7.5 million net. Divided equally among 800 water district residents, $7.5 million dollars would give residents more than $9,000 each, an amount that could help residents like Walden dig new wells. That money has not yet been allocated, but Haynes suggested during her radio interview that it may be used for overdue maintenance and repairs to the A.C.I.D. canal, although both she and fellow board member Ray Eliante said they’re uncertain if, or when, the canal may be used again, because future access to water is dependent on both weather and the will of government officials. 

Shasta Scout has not yet received a response to a request Sunday for more information and comment from the ACID board.

Confused and Angry A.C.I.D. Residents Seek Answers, Help 

More than one hundred people filled a meeting room at Anderson City Hall on Thursday, July 14, for a public meeting of the A.C.I.D. board. Community members overflowed the room, lining the walls and spilling out into surrounding hallways and anterooms. Only a few spoke, but they told the board in no uncertain terms that something has to be done to help struggling residents, and soon.

Community members expressed confusion about why their water allocations were cut, why the remaining A.C.I.D. water was sold off, and where the money from those water sales are going. Some speakers asked the board whether that money could be used for immediate support of district residents who are struggling to live and maintain their crops and animals at a cost they can afford. 

Haynes responded only briefly to the crowd, saying that a few individuals have been “spreading misinformation” about the district’s water situation and encouraging the community to listen to her recent radio interview and utilize information provided by the district to learn what’s really happening. Haynes said the A.C.I.D. board is doing its best to get information out to residents about the lack of water.

It appears from minutes that the board remains undecided on how to spend the approximately $7.5 million from this year’s water sales, even as residents like Walden struggle to find the money to survive.

Additional Resources:

  • Read the two page A.C.I.D. board resolution for 2022 water use, here.
  • Find the Board of Reclamation’s communication regarding reductions in water allocations to A.C.I.D. here.
  • Find a report on A.C.I.D.’s water transfers, or water sales, here.

This is the first of a series of stories from Shasta Scout stories about the causes, effects and solutions to water shortages within the Anderson Cottonwood Irrigation District (A.C.I.D.). 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.

Annelise Pierce is Shasta Scout’s Editor and Community Reporter covering government accountability, civic engagement, and local religious and political movements. You can contact her at [email protected] 

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