My firm Jackson Walker LLP was a member of the H2O4 Texas Coalition that helped support implementation of the Texas State Water Plan through creation of SWIFT. Administered by the Texas Water Development Board, that fund provides low-interest loans to local and regional governments for the development of water resources and infrastructure. H2O4 Texas made a series of videos about their efforts and were kind enough to mention our involvement.
Supporters of Temperance Flat Reservoir have published a new video promoting this water storage project on the San Joaquin River. In August 2017, the San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure Authority filed an application with the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) for $1.3 billion in funding from Proposition 1. DWR is expected to issue a decision in the second quarter of 2018 regarding which water storage projects will receive funding. In the meantime, the video offers a summary of, and advocacy for, the project.
Note: The author of this blog has no opinion on Temperance Flat Reservoir.
The California courts have released two opinions regarding cases of bad behavior at California water districts. They illustrate two problems that can occur in district governance.
First, the Court of Appeal for the Sixth Appellate District released an opinion in People v. Collins, denying an appeal by Steve Collins related to his felony conviction for conflicts of interest while serving as a director on the Monterey County Water Resources Agency. The trial court denied a motion to reduce his conviction from a felony to a misdemeanor, based on his failure to pay restitution to a client in a separate charge of theft by fraud. The appellate court upheld the decision by the trial court, holding that payment of restitution was a valid consideration. This likely concludes the latest legal proceedings against Mr. Collins, who was working as a paid consultant on a proposed seawater desalination project, while at the same time holding public office with the agency responsible for the project. It was a clear conflict of interest, and was one of the more egregious examples of bad behavior by public officials in recent years.
Second, the US District Court for the Eastern District of California released an order dismissing the case of Harrell v. Hornbrook Community Services District. The court held that Mr. Harrell, a former general manager of Hornbrook Community Services District who had filed numerous pro se complaints against the district over a period of three years, was abusing the court process through “purposeful overloading of the court with pleadings which take up more than warranted judicial attention, but which simultaneously demonstrate a desire to wage a war of attrition on the opposing parties.” The court dismissed the case with prejudice under Rules 12(b)(6) and 41(b), concluding that Mr. Harrell had shown no interest in having the court reach the merits of his complaints, but only sought to harass the district through the imposition of burdensome defense costs.
The cases represent two of many challenges for governance of local water districts. In the case of Mr. Collins, he was serving as a director on the governing board of an agency, while earning money as a consultant with projects being considered by that same board. His was a crime of an individual public official. In the case of Mr. Harrell, he was an ex-employee of a water district who engaged in a protracted legal battle for the purpose of harassment. Districts often face a small number of critics that attack the district on a regular basis for every action they take. Those critics require a large expenditure of management time and sometimes money, and can prevent a district from moving forward on its essential mission of providing clean, safe and reliable water supplies in an expeditious and efficient manner.
Luckily, these examples of bad behavior are not the norm. Most officials and district residents are sincerely motivated to serve the public interest, and most disputes concern the proper setting of goals and strategies.
In 2016, the California Legislature made moderate amendments to the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), which go into effect on January 1, 2017. You can find an annotated version of SGMA here, including all the newest changes. Early in 2017, look for a revised version of my earlier white paper on the significant groundwater law, including regulations adopted by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the formation of groundwater sustainability agencies (GSAs) across the state.
Bills adopted in 2016 related to SGMA included:
- Assembly Bill 2874 (Gaines), which requires a GSA to provide notice of any groundwater management fee increase to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), if any public utility extracts water from the basin;
- Senate Bill 37 (Vidak), which added the Kings River East Groundwater Sustainability Agency to the list of statutory GSAs; and
- Senate Bill 564 (Cannella), which added the North Fork Kings Groundwater Sustainability Agency to the list of statutory GSAs.
In addition, several bills were rejected by the Legislature, including:
- Assembly Bill 938 (Rodriguez), which would have allowed a watermaster or local agency administering an adjudicated groundwater basin to elect that the basin be subject to SGMA; and
- Senate Bill 1317 (Wolk), which would have required cities and counties to establish programs for issuance of permits for new groundwater wells in any high- or medium-priority basin, and prohibited the issuance of a permit in any basin that is designated by DWR as subject to critical conditions of overdraft.
Fortunately, it is supposed to rain this week across much of California, so those dark clouds may contribute needed water supplies.
Since 2012, I have had the privilege of providing training to approximately 300 directors of California mutual water companies to satisfy the legal requirements of AB 54 (2011). Given continued interest in the topic, I will offer the course on two dates this year. Because mutual water companies are spread across the state, making travel to a central location impracticable, the training will be conducted by webinar on the following dates:
- Tuesday, December 13, 2016 at 6:00 pm Pacific
- Thursday, December 15, 2016 at 6:00 pm Pacific
The training will be similar to previous years, updated for new developments in 2016. Like last year, the training is free to all directors of a mutual water company. Since there is no charge, I hope some directors will attend who have had the required training but could benefit from a refreshed memory and the 2016 updates.
If you are interested in attending the training or learning more, please call Pat Starkie at (512) 236-2231 or email her at email@example.com. I can also answer questions below. I look forward to meeting you.