In the World Series of water, Butte County’s hardworking resident groundwater protectors are coming up to bat against the corporate powers we seem unable to resist. It’s the last inning, maybe bottom of the ninth: voting (by mail) to approve the formation of the Tuscan Water District is now underway and will close Dec. 5.
Unless the vast majority of farmland owners within the proposed boundaries of the proposed district vote No, the future of Butte County’s groundwater will be in the hands of a small gang of six large landowners under the misnomer “Agricultural Groundwater Users of Butte County” (AGUBC), the largest of which is an out-of-state corporation (the Mormon Church). Visit groundwaterforbutte.blogspot.com for a fuller understanding of how this came about, complete with cooperation from county government and state sanction.
Those Butte residents I mentioned in the first sentence have managed to hold off the approval of the district for two years longer than the Gang of Six imagined. They are all volunteers (no paid staff,) all residents who care about their county’s future, some even serving on the several GSAs that were established early on—and those residents rightly fear the takeover of the groundwater management process by this district. With its skewed property-weighted voting structure, the Tuscan Water District’s six large, largely absentee landholders will call all the shots. Critical decisions like the marketing of groundwater to thirsty towns and dry regions will be under their control, no matter what impact those decisions might have on the other agricultural groundwater users within the district boundaries or beyond, from the small towns on the valley floor to the uplands surrounding Chico.
It is clear to many people in Butte County that maintaining groundwater is important for everyone, not just those who pump it to irrigate crops. But the water codes governing the formation of water districts do not allow them to vote in this election. In fact, even the smaller farmers within the district have had their votes made almost null by the choice of this kind of district. Had the district organizers been required to form as an irrigation district instead (which the Butte County LAFCo easily could have done,) many more residents would have been able to weigh in on this proposal. Voting in irrigation districts is democratic (i.e., one person, one vote), so those who have the most to lose in this election would have had half a chance to protect themselves from this takeover bid (read Trudy’s column “Voting Wrongs,” in The Sun-Gazette, Oct. 6, 2021 at tinyurl.com/notes1021).
What is left now is the hope for a home run. The farmland owners within the proposed boundaries will have to knock it out of the park with “No” votes, or it’s Goodbye Grandma. Pray that they wake up to the danger and cast their ballots in time, marking their disapproval. Pray that the sum total of their property values add up to more than the Gang’s do. Pray for a miracle.
Because if they don’t, if the Gang gets what it wants, the good people of Butte will find themselves in the same place we are—pawns in the water game. If they’re lucky, the public outrage over this water coup will bring them together, like it has the Cuyama Valley folks. They, too, tried to fight off the formation of the Cuyama Basin Water District in 2017, but failed. Now they are having to stand up together to fend off the Gang of Two who pushed it through, the two largest carrot growers in the world, Grimmway and Bolthouse. (For inspiration as well as information, check out www.standwithcuyama.com.)
To help out, we can just say no to carrots and sign their petition. But in truth, the rules of the water game need to be changed. What we here in the Tulare Lake basin have to offer is clear evidence of the costs of playing by these old rules. We can shine a light on the impacts to the common good that result from this kind of taking, this taking of a necessary resource in critical supply for the amassing of private empires. It’s unjust. It is morally corrupt. It harms the earth and most of its inhabitants. But unless we raise our voices against it, we are complicit. Let us learn to say no to this kind of taking here, too. We have all the evidence we need.
Trudy Wischemann is a 40-year veteran in the struggle to save family farms. You can send her your visions of justice c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of the Mid Valley Times newspaper.