Backdoor politics: IID alleges Riverside County violated Brown Act in passing ordinance

From the Imperial Valley Press:

Backdoor politics

IID alleges Riverside County violated Brown Act in passing ordinance

By IMPERIAL VALLEY PRESS STAFF

 LA QUINTA — The Imperial Irrigation District is alleging Riverside County was in violation of California’s open meetings law, the Brown Act, when Riverside officials “lined up votes” outside of the public’s purview on an ordinance the district is now suing over.

What’s more, due to the alleged Brown Act violations, the district sent a letter from one of its attorneys demanding that the ordinance in question be rescinded or that Riverside County face additional legal challenges from the district.

The allegations were made public Tuesday at the district’s monthly meeting in La Quinta during a presentation by attorneys for Aguirre and Severson LLP, an outside law firm hired by the district to make a California public records request on its behalf.

The district is currently embroiled in a lawsuit with Riverside County over the approval of Ordinance 943, a law passed by the Riverside County Board of Supervisors in June compelling the IID to provide additional incentives to electrical customers who have installed solar panels on their properties.

IID officials are opposed to the ordinance, saying that at stake is the district’s authority to set its own rates and that the district is already in compliance with California state law.

“IID’s business model allows the district to offer its customers some of the lowest residential electric rates in California — rates that are as much as 50 percent lower than that of neighboring investor-owned utilities. The ordinance, should it be implemented, jeopardizes these rates and sets a bad public policy that has the potential to impact other public power providers across the state,” IID communications specialist Robert Schettler said in a statement.

The ordinance passed by Riverside County — which is not in effect, but in a court-ordered stay while the suit makes its way through legal proceedings — establishes new regulations and procedures for irrigation districts like IID that are operating net-energy metering programs. Net-energy metering is a program designed to benefit customers who generate their own electricity, usually via rooftop solar panels.

The Brown Act violation allegations are believed to be contained in a series of correspondence Aguirre and Severson requested between Riverside County officials and staff and principals in Renova Energy, a private solar installation company based in Palm Desert that appears to have pushed for the ordinance according to a series of emails.

“Because of the rather troubling aspects of the way this thing was passed, we asked outside counsel to make a public records request,” IID General Counsel Frank Oswalt said.

Oswalt said Riverside County responded to the records request Oct. 2 and within a series of email correspondence attorneys believed they found two emails, or examples, in which the Brown Act was violated.

The Brown Act states, Oswalt said, that a legislative body such as the Riverside County Board of Supervisors “shall not outside a meeting, use a series of communications to discuss, deliberate or take action” on a subject within its jurisdiction.

In a letter to the Riverside County board from IID Deputy County Counsel Joanna Smith Hoff:

“Email correspondence produced by [Riverside] County reveal extensive, non-public solicitation and collection of votes by Supervisor V. Manuel Perez at the insistence of [Renova Energy owner Vincent] Battaglia. For example, by email dated May 5, 2018, Supervisor Perez urged Thomas S. Freeman, a senior Perez staff member:

‘Tom, let’s count the votes. Use this information and the fact that Renova will indemnify. If votes still not there, we will need Vince (Battagalia) to knock on those doors to get us there.’”

Smith Hoff’s letter goes on to cite a second email where Perez lobbies Riverside County Deputy Chief Executive Officer Brian Nestande on May 1:

“Hey Brian, what are we waiting on now? Let’s move this forward. Let’s count the votes. V. Manuel Perez”

Smith Hoff writes: “It is clear from the above emails that Supervisor Perez worked through intermediaries to develop concurrence on Ordinance 943 out of public view and prior to any public consideration of the matter by the board.”

Further, IID alleges in Smith Hoff’s letter that the email correspondence also shows “a secretly negotiated indemnity agreement between Mr. Battaglia and his companies (Renova and ERA) on the one hand, and the county of Riverside on the other, that preceded any public board consideration or action in connection with the adoption of Ordinance 943.”

“We see this letter,” Smith Hoff writes, “as providing you [Riverside] an opportunity to rectify an illegal action avoiding the need for further litigation.” From the date of the letter, Oct. 12, the IID has given Riverside County 30 days to respond or be subject to legal action.

Riverside County officials deny any wrongdoing.

“The Riverside County Board of Supervisors has and will continue to adhere to the requirements of the Ralph M. Brown Act. The allegations by the Imperial Irrigation District have no merit. Board members did not engage in any serial meetings in advance of the ordinance’s introduction and adoption. The recent disclosure of emails in response to IID’s public records request does not change the fact that there were no serial meetings,” Riverside County spokesman Ray Smith wrote in an email Wednesday afternoon.

Aguirre and Severson partner Maria Severson took the IID Board of Directors and those assembled at Tuesday’s meeting through a history of the “behind-the-scenes” development of the ordinance by way of a chain of emails outlining negotiations between Battaglia, Perez and others. There was a specific call to arms against the IID from Battaglia, according to the emails. Battaglia makes references to going to “war” with IID and in another instance calling the IID Board of Directors “rogue, corrupt and environmentally tone-deaf” through the development of the ordinance and the alleged negotiation of the indemnity agreement.

IID is “wasting rate payer money challenging a law they know they have no right to challenge,” Battaglia said Wednesday. “We addressed this Brown Act business. They are throwing anything at the wall to try to make it stick.”

Battaglia said the IID is trying to “paint it as if this greedy solar guy is trying to bring net-metering back. … It’s a just a game they are playing now trying to smear me. … It’s a cartel down there. I understand that mentality; I’m just not going to put up with that.”

He added that any dealings he had with Riverside County officials was above board and legal.

No action was taken on the Brown Act issue by the IID board, as the issue was placed on the meeting agenda as an information-only item. None of the board members nor IID General Manager Kevin Kelley commented on the issue; Oswalt advised, “In fact, it would probably be inappropriate for the board to comment on it.”

Meanwhile, IID filed suit against Riverside over the ordinance back on July 13 in Riverside County Superior Court. The ordinance in question has not gone into effect, as the IID won a stay pending further consideration of the merits of the case. The parties are next due in court Nov. 6 in Los Angeles, seen as a neutral site by the court.

First page of letter written to the Riverside County Board of Supervisors

 

 

 

Commentary (from AgAlert): Proposition 3 water bond represents important step

Below is a snippet from an article published on the California Farm Bureau’s AgAlert by Justin Fredrickson, environmental policy analyst for the California Farm Bureau Federation.

“Indeed, it’s no accident that numerous, solution-oriented conservation groups strongly endorse this bond, along with representatives of agriculture and business, flood-control districts and water districts throughout the state. Conservation groups supporting Proposition 3 include the Nature Conservancy, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Planning and Conservation League, Sustainable Conservation, California Trout, Natural Heritage Institute, Ducks Unlimited, California Waterfowl Association and Save the Bay.

“That’s because Proposition 3 includes funding for conservancies, recycling, water conservation, stormwater capture, fish, waterfowl, Salton Sea restoration and forest management.”

You can read the entire article here.

LA Times: As states near deal on Colorado River shortage, California looks at water cuts of as much as 8%

As states near deal on Colorado River shortage, California looks at water cuts of as much as 8%

After years of stop-and-go talks, California and two other states that take water from the lower Colorado River are nearing an agreement on how to share delivery cuts if a formal shortage is declared on the drought-plagued waterway.

Under the proposed pact, California — the river’s largest user — would reduce diversions earlier in a shortage than it would if the lower-basin states strictly adhered to a water-rights pecking order. California’s huge river take would drop 4.5% to 8% as the shortage progressed.

With occasional years of relief, the river that greens farm fields and fills faucets from Colorado to California has been stuck in drought since 2000. A shortage declaration has been looming over the seven-state basin for more than a decade, only to be narrowly averted time and again when rain and snow in the upper basin pushed reservoir levels above the trigger point.

Nearly two decades of drought in the Colorado River Basin have taken their toll on Lake Mead, a major source of water for Southern California. (John Locher / Associated Press)

But flows into Lake Powell — one of the Colorado’s two massive reservoirs — fell to a little more than a third of the average for the April-through-July period this year. And September’s inflow was negligible, less than 1% of the average. Looking at those numbers, federal officials say the U.S. Interior Department could declare a shortage in 2020.

“It’s pretty clear we’re in a deepening long-term drought cycle,” said Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which has been importing Colorado River water to the region since the early 1940s. “It’s in everybody’s interest to prevent the system from cratering.”

The basin’s entire storage system is 47% full. Lake Powell, which stores runoff from the upper basin and releases it to Lake Mead, is 45% full. Mead, the source of Southern California’s river water, is 38% full.

The Interior secretary has never declared a shortage on the Colorado. But it has been known for years that the river is over-allocated. The basin states divvied up the flows in the early 20th century — a period that in hindsight was unusually wet and presented an unrealistic picture of what the Colorado could produce year in and year out.

Diversions are regulated by a complicated system of river compacts and water rights that call for Arizona and Nevada to take the first cuts in times of a lower-basin shortage. California, with some of the oldest river rights, is further down the line.

The sprawling Imperial Irrigation District and other farm districts in southeastern California control roughly 75% of California’s 4.4 million-acre-foot share. Imperial is the single largest user on the entire length of the river, which starts at the Continental Divide in the Colorado Rockies and has an average annual flow of roughly 15 million acre-feet.

Metropolitan has nearly doubled its base allocation of 550,000 acre-feet through agreements with Imperial and other irrigation districts that fallow crop land and sell their unused river supplies. Those deals would help cushion Metropolitan, which serves Southern California, if a shortage is declared. (An acre-foot is enough to supply more than two households for a year.)

Metropolitan would also benefit from water it has been able to bank in Lake Mead under 2007 drought guidelines that have allowed states to leave unused portions of their river allocations in the reservoir. Under the previous use-it-or-lose-it rules, states had to take their full allocation every year.

The 2007 framework specified that the Department of the Interior would declare a shortage when Lake Mead’s elevation hit 1,075 feet. Nevada and Arizona, which have rights junior to California, would then start delivery reductions.

Under the proposed drought contingency plan, Arizona and Nevada would continue to take the first cuts, which would be deeper than outlined in 2007. At the same time, California would reduce its river diversions when Mead levels hit 1,045 feet — earlier in the shortage than previously envisioned.

California’s cuts, shared by Imperial and Metropolitan, would increase as the lake level dropped but be no greater than 350,000 acre-feet a year.

Arizona is still working out the details of how to apportion its cuts among in-state users. And the lower-basin water districts have yet to approve the drought plan, which parties are hoping to finalize by December.

“I’ve got my own people asking tough questions. But I believe we can do it,” Metropolitan’s Kightlinger said.

A drought plan will not end debate among lower-basin users, who are confronting the fact that their use is outstripping the long-term supply.

“It’s not sustainable,” Kightlinger said. “We have to push it down or grow supply” with other sources.

The complete article by Betine Boxall can be read here.

ACWA: This November Vote Yes on Prop 3-Says Californias Association of Water Agencies


Passage of Proposition 3 is Dependent Upon Educating the Public

  • by Timothy Quinn
  • Oct 5, 2018
  • Voices on Water

With one month left before the Nov. 6 general election, water agencies should seriously consider making a concerted effort now to educate their communities about Proposition 3, if they have not already done so. Numerous reasons can be listed as examples of how passage of this water bond will not only benefit Californians, but their children and grandchildren. In the bigger picture, Proposition 3 builds on momentum from the passage of Proposition 68 passed in June, and it will require a tremendous amount of momentum to overcome the many challenges culminating within California water before our eyes.

Climate change, the increasingly catastrophic natural disasters that result from it and aging water infrastructure have compounded in the already uniquely challenging era in California water affecting us on a daily basis. Meanwhile, we remain well aware of the unacceptable fact that some disadvantaged communities lack access to safe drinking water – a problem that we strongly agree must be solved, but not through bad policy that leads to unanticipated consequences that benefit no one.

Please click here to read the complete article.

Imperial Valley Press: IID pushing forward on plan to place additional water in Lake Mead

The Imperial Irrigation District is working with the Bureau of Reclamation and the other Colorado River Basin States to create a Drought Contingency Plan (DCP). Below is a clip from the Imperial Valley Press regarding IID and the DCP:

IID representatives, along with members of the various Colorado River water contractors, on Sept. 17 and 18 participated in a basin states meeting in Las Vegas hosted by the bureau to explore the creation of a basin-wide DCP.

Brenda Burman is the Bureau of Reclamation's 23rd Commissioner
Commissioner Brenda Burman

“I attended the Colorado River meeting in Las Vegas to discuss the drought contingency plan process with the two basins and seven states that are in this process and identify critical next steps,” IID Board President James C. Hanks, Division 3, said during the regular board meeting Tuesday afternoon. “These meetings were led by Reclamation Commissioner Brenda W. Burman, and I can report that while there is still no DCP, there is considerable interest on the part of the Bureau of Reclamation … in completing one before the year’s end.”

IID is exploring the creation of a DCP in concert with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California that would expand how much water it can store behind Hoover Dam in Lake Mead. The DCP would only be approved by IID if it were to ensure that such water can be withdrawn on demand, that the authority to unilaterally preside over local agricultural water conservation methods are solely the purview of IID and that such an agreement would not put the Salton Sea at further risk of drying up due to lower water inflow.

The article can be read here.

Holtville resident encouraging Imperial County residents to back the Imperial Irrigation

Holtville resident and former county supervisor Wally Leimgruber is encouraging Imperial County residents to back the Imperial Irrigation

Businessman and Holtville resident
Wally Leimgruber

District’s appeal to litigation he argues may jeopardize the district’s authority over precious Colorado River water.

“As a property owner with over 28 years in the farming industry and now involved in land-use consulting, I am respectfully requesting you join with me and other business and civic leaders in filing an amicus brief in support of IID’s position in the appeal,” Leimgruber wrote in a letter he is sharing with county residents.

… Meanwhile, members of the El Centro City Council at its Sept. 4 meeting voiced support for Leimgruber when he presented his group’s position.

El Centro city council member Cheryl Viegas-Walker

“Without access to water there is no reason for Imperial Valley to exist,” Mayor Cheryl Viegas-Walker said, commenting from a remote location by

speakerphone. “Water must be held in trust for future generations. I personally endorse this amicus brief.”

Also offering encouragement, Council Member Efrain Silva said, “Without water Imperial Valley becomes the next Death Valley. Wally, you have my full support and we should go as far as we can go.”

Complete article here: https://www.holtvilletribune.com/single-post/2018/09/25/Farm-Group-Voices-Support-For-IID-in-Water-Flap

Not by much: Colorado River system to stay out of shortfall status through 2019

The following excerpt  is from the Arizona Department of Water Resources. You can read the complete article here.

Not by much: Colorado River system to stay out of shortfall status through 2019

As news reports have indicated, the “August 2018 24-Month Study” of the Colorado River system, released Wednesday by the Bureau of Reclamation, tells at least two big water stories for the Southwest.

For one, it illustrates that the Lower Basin will not be in a shortage for 2019. According to the Bureau’s “most likely” scenario, Lake Mead will finish 2018 about four and a half feet above the “shortage declaration” cutoff, which is 1,075 feet in elevation.

A shortage declaration would trigger a set of criteria in the 2007 interim guidelines calling for Arizona’s deliveries of Colorado River water to be reduced by 320,000 acre-feet.

In addition to those anticipated conditions – inspired, largely, by decades of drought and a chronic structural deficit in annual Lower Basin deliveries – the 2018 August study tells us much about the complex relationship between the system’s two great reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

Continue reading the article here.

 

 

Water You Talking About?

Water You Talking About? Climate change is worsening water woes across the world, and these complex problems require solutions that cross borders and go beyond politics. Quartz and the Texas Observer are partnering on a nine-part series, Shallow Waters, that examines how the US and Mexico are working together to confront controversial water issues along the border, sometimes overcoming and sometimes succumbing to political tensions. The first story introduces two key American and Mexican negotiators, and their counterparts in the Middle East who face a similar struggle to cooperate over shared resources. (Introduction; First story: Quartz or Texas Observer)