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Ballots for landowner Tuscan Water District election due Tuesday, some residents concerned about process

Emily Alma, a Chico resident who lives within the proposed district, opposes the formation of the TWD.
Sarah Bohannon
Emily Alma, a Chico resident who lives within the proposed district, opposes the formation of the TWD.

Read the transcript


Landowners living in a controversial proposed water district in Butte County have one more day to vote on whether the district should be formed. NSPR’s Sarah Bohannon has more.


The Tuscan Water District, or TWD, would encompass about 100,000 acres on the northwestern side of Butte County between Chico and Durham.

In past public forums, those in favor of the district have argued it’s needed to bring more surface water to the area and to implement more groundwater recharge. Opponents say the district will privatize much of the county’s groundwater — making it more susceptible to a state water grab — and would benefit large corporate ag businesses.

The aquifer that contains the groundwater the district would manage is much larger than the proposed district itself. But the election is a landowner district election, which means only those who own land within the proposed district are qualified to vote. Those who’ve been mailed ballots are deciding on two questions: “yes” or “no” on whether to create the district with an annual parcel assessment up to $10 per acre, and who they want to sit on the district’s nine-member board.

But it’s a decision that all landowners won’t be weighing in on equally. Keaton Denlay is the elections manager for the office of the Butte County Clerk-Recorder.

(SOUNDBITE OF KEATON DENLAY) “Normally our elections are always counted one vote, one person, right. You’re a registered voter, you get to vote once. In this election, the votes are by parcels and acres owned. For example, if you own 10 acres you’re effectively getting 10 votes in that election. ”

This one acre per vote approach is one of the many concerns for those who oppose the district. That includes Emily Alma, a Chico resident who lives within the proposed district. While Alma will get 13 votes for the 12.5 acres she co-owns, she says Farmland Reserve, which is operated by the Mormon Church, will get nearly 12,000 votes.

(SOUNDBITE OF EMILY ALMA) “And they are an out-of-state corporation. There is no way that those who are opposing this could win in a 51 to 49 election, because of the number of votes that they have, the large corporations and the large holdings, who are very much in favor of this.”

Alma is part of a group of Butte County residents who are not just questioning the formation of the TWD, but also the ballot itself. In a recent press release, the group said the ballot was “flawed.” Some of the reasons listed were that residents were not adequately advised about the upcoming election or about the right to submit ballot arguments. The ballot currently contains no counterargument for the formation of the TWD, and only one of the 11 candidates for the board offered a statement.

(SOUNDBITE OF EMILY ALMA) “The only person who wrote anything about herself is this person here. Plus, e we folks, these are all people who have land in the district in the in their boundaries. And I wasn't invited to submit an application to serve on the board.”

Denlay — with the election’s office — disagreed with many of the group’s allegations. He said the Butte Local Agency Formation Commission, or LAFCo, did make information available about who could nominate themselves for the board. And he said his office got the ballots out on time.

(SOUNDBITE OF KEATON DENLAY) “We're required to send out a ballot pamphlet at least 10 days prior to the election, to all the landowners in the district, we sent out that ballot packet with the voter information guide in August.”

Ballots are due tomorrow. If mailed, they need to be signed and postmarked by that date. They can also be dropped off before close of business at the Butte County elections office, at 155 Nelson Avenue in Oroville.

For NSPR News, I’m Sarah Bohannon.

Sarah has worked at North State Public Radio since 2015 and is currently the station’s Director of Operations. She’s responsible for the sound of the station and works to create the richest public radio experience possible for NSPR listeners.