A short summary of what has been transpiring with the North Yuba Water District since January 2019 through mid June 2020.
In November of 2018, the voters of Division 4 elected Gretchen Flohr to represent their interests on the Board of Directors of the North Yuba Water District (NYWD). This removed the Chair, Donald Forguson as a Director.
At his final meeting on November, 30 2018, Mr. Forguson delivered a somewhat acrimonious speech about his replacement. This set the tone for subsequent Board meetings.
A recap - in September of 2017, NYWD was awarded a $500,000 planning grant for the Forbestown Ditch Pipeline project from the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB). NorthStar Engineering (Chico) was hired in 2017 by NYWD to develop the engineering plans for the Forbestown Ditch (FTD) pipeline project NYWD planned to use the grant funds to pay NorthStar’s billing. The expiration date for the SWRCB grant was June 2019. This meant that all planning work would need to be completed and billed to SWRCB by June 2019.
Before she took office on December 3, 2019, Dr. Flohr had made a request of the NYWD General Manager, Jeff Maupin, for documents related to the Forbestown Ditch piping project. Mr. Maupin refused to provide the requested documents.
Mr. Maupin has stated that it was agreed that the FTD plans would be kept at the NorthStar Engineering offices in Chico. Since the engineering plans were not physically located at the NYWD Brownsville office, he stated that they were not available for review by Director Flohr or anyone else.
After repeated requests for the documents, Director Flohr finally filed a lawsuit against NYWD in March 2019. NYWD responded by filing a counter suit. The matter now sits under review by the Honorable Yuba County Superior Court Judge Stephen Berrier.
On April 11, 2019, NYWD Chair Eric Hansard sent a letter to the Yuba Water Agency (YWA) Planning and Development committee (POD committee). In this letter, Hansard requested a 50/50 grant/loan so that construction of the FTD Pipeline Project could begin.
Hansard also stated in the letter that NYWD had applied for a construction grant from SWRCB under Prop 1 and that the funds NYWD was requesting from YWA would be repaid upon receipt of the SWRCB grant. The letter was not formally presented or discussed by the NYWD Directors at any public meeting.
Subsequently, on May 24, 2019, YWA responded requesting that NYWD prepare a complete project description, provide a construction schedule and a project budget estimate. At that time, YWA was concerned that providing the 50% loan might turn into a grant if the SWRCB funds were not forthcoming in 2020.
Note: the capacity of the pipe proposed for the construction of the FTD Pipeline Project is limited to convey only 24 cubic feet per second. This is substantially less than would be needed to convey all the water NYWD has water rights to convey: 23,700 acre feet.
Preparation of a report determining the environmental impacts of the project is required by the state law known as the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). CEQA documentation, as well as the mitigations required to reduce significant environmental impacts to less than significant, can be costly.
In June of 2019, the $500,000 SWRCB grant expired and there could be no further billing for the project. At that point, NYWD still had $165,725 remained in the grant budget, in that could have been billed but wasn’t. NYWD requested SWRCB provide an extension of the grant timeline. SWRCB stated that a time extension would be granted if and when NYWD provided SWRCB with CEQA documents. Meanwhile, NorthStar Engineering had determined it needed an additional $60,000 to conduct work on easements and access to properties affected by construction of the FTD Pipeline Project. (This is an amount over and above their previous contracted budget of $500,000). However, since the SWRCB grant had expired, there were no grant monies available for NorthStar to collect payment from.
On Friday, August 2, 2019, YWA published an agenda for their next POD meeting that listed an agenda item to grant NYWD $225,725. The intention was to approve the request at the next YWA meeting scheduled Tuesday, August 6.
NYWD requested $225,725 because they could not access the remaining grant monies from SWRCB. NYWD had failed thus had not been granted a time extension that would enable the district to comply with SWRCB’s request for CEQA documents and to access the remaining grant monies of $165,725. With the additional request from NorthStar for $60,000 this led to NYWD asking for the sum of the two amounts: $225,725.
Apparently, this agenda item raised some concerns with YWA and, by Friday evening, the agenda item had been removed. There was a call from the YWA public relations department stating that nothing regarding NYWD was going to happen and everybody could stay home rather than attend the public YWA meeting on Tuesday.
Eleven days later, on August 13, Manager Maupin called a special NYWD Board meeting for a single agenda item: Resolution 19-733 - re General Manager Authority to Execute Grant Applications.
This resolution gave the GM the authority to pursue funding opportunities for NYWD projects. At this special meeting, then YWA Chair Brent Hastey was in attendance. It is not known why the NYWD General Manager needed more authority than he already had.
NYWD chose to not have regular Board meetings in November and December of 2019. Nor has it had meetings for March, April, or May of 2020. Yuba Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) is an independent agency tasked with establishing boundaries (Sphere of Influence “SOI”) of various districts in the county. In the summer of 2019, LAFCO notified NYWD that 403 parcels, overlapped the service area of Browns Valley Irrigation District (BVID). This put NYWD on notice that these parcels would have to be detached (de-annexed) from the NYWD service area.
On the agenda for the February 27, 2020, regular NYWD Board meeting was a notice: Public Hearing: Consideration to revise the Director's Divisions as provided under Elections Code section 2200 base on the revised District boundary line. In fact, the application to revise NYWD boundary had not been submitted to LAFCO, so the revised boundaries had not yet been revised.
At The February 27, 2020, meeting, two large maps were propped against the Board table showing the new division boundaries. These maps had been prepared by Katie Atkinson of the Yuba County GIS Department. The voter division map was dated October 8, 2019. This map re-districted all the irrigation customers into a single division. Whereas before, there had been three Directors representing the irrigation customers, now there would be only one.
On March 11, 2020, a special NYWD Board meeting was called at 8am to adopt: Resolution 20-743: Establish Director Boundaries and Identification Number of Each Division. The motion passed with Directors Hansard, Neilson, Hawthorne, and Brown (illegally) voting for and Director Flohr voting against.
As it turns out, Director Brown, who voted by phone, had moved to Florida in November 2019 and registered to vote as a Florida resident on February 20, 2020. To be qualified as an NYWD Director, one must be a registered California voter. Director Brown's vote did not count and in fact broke all ethical bounds as did the inclusion of him to the meeting by having him call in. He broke the rules.
2004 was the last time the NYWD board adopted a new map based on the 2000 population census data as is prescribed by law. The map was on display at the Brownsville offices for 30 days prior to adoption. This public review period did not happen with this latest map adopted on March 11, 2020. It is not known why the same public review was not provided for this map as required by law.
In the fall of 2017, the NYWD undertook a rate increase to its customers to make it possible to fund piping the Forbestown Ditch. At this time, the capacity of this proposed pipe was not apparent. The rate increase did not pass but it did create a bit of controversy in the affected communities. During this time, it was discovered that some parcels were annexed into the NYWD but were actually part of the Browns Valley Irrigation District (BVID) generally located south of Collins Lake.
This was brought to the attention of the Local Area Formation Committee (LAFCO), which defines the boundaries of local districts in Yuba County.
On May 6, LAFCO convened a regular meeting. On the agenda was: LAFCO File No. 2020-0002-North Yuba Water District Detachment. Only it wasn't. Underneath the agenda item was the announcement, **Public Hearing is cancelled and will be rescheduled at a date not yet determined.**
On March 26, 2020, the water district files an application with LAFCO to detached the 403 parcels that overlapped into BVID's service area. On March 29, 2020, LAFCO met to consider LAFCO Resolution 2020-0006: A Resolution Making Determinations and Approving the detachment of 8,328.77-acres more or less of lands in Yuba County from the North Yuba Water District (NYWD).
This meeting was Chaired by Andy Vasquez. The meeting concluded with a vote by Mr. Vasquez, and all the commissioners present, to accept the detachment.
Only there was a problem. It turns out that the application submitted by the water district was not signed, thus making the resolution as if it had not been voted on at all. On the date of this meeting, May 29, 2020, a letter was filed by an attorney representing a number of people within the NYWD's current boundaries protesting this rushed adoption of Resolution No. 2020-0006.
LAFCO has scheduled a Special Meeting on June 29, 2020, titled "YUBA LAFCo NOTICE OF PROTEST HEARING. At this meeting, only property owners, that are in the detached territory, will be allowed to speak and/or file written protest letters to LAFCO. On the day of the meeting, LAFCO cancelled the meeting. On June 30, the North Yuba Water District submitted the division map for the November 2020 elections. Nothing had changed, it is the same map that was used in 2018, with the domestic users represented by three directors and the irrigation customers two directors.
On May 29, 2019, South Feather Water and Power General Manager Rath Mosely sent an invitation to the Directors of the water district inviting them to form an advisory committee to "enhance communication on the current 2005 agreement/partnership..." The Board did not respond. Subsequently, there have been numerous Attempts (at least 8) by South Feather to enter into a conversation about mutual interests to which the NYWD has made no response. At the February 27, 2020, meeting here was a lengthy discussion about why the NYWD has not responded to South Feather. Manager Maupin said the Board had not authorized him to respond. In order to respond, Manager Maupin has to put this on the agenda and officially notify the Board of the invitation which he did not do. From the discussion, it seems that Directors Neilson, Hansard, and Hawthorne (Brown was not in attendance), are satisfied with the 2005 agreement and its limitation of 3,700 acre feet of "free" water. This leaves 20,000 acre feet of permitted water that could be used to construct a robust fire protection system for the foothills.
At the special Board meeting on Tuesday, June 4, 2020, the NYWD Board voted to accept the bid from Hanson Bros, Enterprises to pipe the Oroleve Ditch for $588,044. The Board also voted to hire Crowe LLP to do a forensic audit of South Feather Water & Power Authority. NYWD Attorney Barbara Brenner said the amount would be capped at $20,000. Ayes: 3, Nays: 1
Previously, the NYWD had hired Energy and Water Consulting principal Dr. Lon House to prepare a similar audit of South Feather. On September 4, 2019, House reported that SFWPA owed NYWD $838,603. On November 4, 2019, South Feather General Manager Rath Moseley wrote a letter to NYWD stating that South Feather very likely inadvertently overpaid NYWD and suggested the two Agencies undertake mutually retaining a neutral forensic accounting firm.
If you recall, the NYWD has sent a letter to the YWA staff requesting funding for the Oroleve Ditch piping project. This request is pending being put on the POD committee agenda. Before such consideration, CEQA reporting requirements should be in order.
On Tuesday June 16, 2020, the Yuba Water Agency Planning and Development (POD) committee met for a Presentation NYWD Forbestown Ditch and Oroleve Ditch Projects. This presentation is focusing on "CEQA PROCESS - OROLEVE ("Categorial Exemption").
CEQA requires documentation on the environment a project may have and propose mitigations. A Categorial Exemption is declaring that a project is exempt from CEQA even if it may impact the environment. The presentation includes a Q & A section. Usually the POD committee considers funding requests. Such a presentation as this is highly unusual.
On June 30, at a specal Planning and Development Committee meeting, the Yuba Water Agency voted to recommend funding of the Oroleve Ditch piping project for a vote by the YWA board. On July 7, the Yuba Water Agency voted to grant the North Yuba Water District $480,000 to piping the Oroleve Ditch.
The information gathered here comes from a number of Public Record Act requests and other sources.
Below are links to various documents related to the North Yuba Water District, from court records or others obtained by Public Records Act Requests.
Letters to the Editor (Territorial Dispatch)