html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: I crack myself up.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

I crack myself up.

I laughed when I saw this news article title: “Residents to oppose water fee increases” and figured I would skip to the next story, the one about how the sun rose in the east this morning. But I read it anyway, and came across two things that caught my attention. The first was this line:
The water district is proposing a $2.30 increase on its pumping fee for large water users in the area…
I am fairly sure the reporter meant $2.30/acrefoot pumping fee, else I can’t imagine why large water users would care. I am sure we all agree that this is yet another example of the flagrant journalistic misconduct that has dominated our discourse for the past many years.

But journalists dropping units from their reporting has been endlessly hashed out on the leftwing blogs, and I was actually more interested in this line:
Smith and Beuhler said if 50 percent plus one of the land owners at the meeting vote against the fee hike, the district will not be able to implement the increase.
Naturally, I thought ‘Fifty-one percent of landowners, or fifty-one percent by acreage?” Did you know that different water districts have different ways to vote in district elections? Some districts have a one-landowner, one-vote structure; others have a voting structure where the vote is weighted by amount of acreage the vote caster owns; others have a voting structure where the votes is weighted by the dollar value of the land the voters owns. ‘Aha!’, you said to yourself! ‘At long last, I know the difference between a water district and an irrigation district!’ Not so fast, Spanky. I thought that too, but we’re both wrong.

After consulting the General Comparison of Water District Acts*, I found that it can be all over the board. Irrigation districts have a one-person, one-vote rule. Reclamation districts go by one vote per dollar assessed value of taxable land and improvements. Water Conservation Districts formed under the 1927 Act go by one vote per acre, but Water Conservation Districts formed under the 1931 Act allow all registered voters to vote in district affairs. Water districts can weight votes by dollars or by acreage.

There are people who think that this is important stuff. I can see that. Water districts have an awful lot of local authority, and the ability to assess taxes on landowners in the district, hold liens on land and use eminent domain. There is a fair amount of room for very large landholders to dominate water district decisions, which can be the same as land use decisions in farming regions. It certainly is not a very egalitarian, democratic voting method. Dr. Goodall looked at water district voting structure in California district and civic life, and found correlations. East side of the San Joaquin Valley has irrigation districts, more varied agriculture, more small farms, nice towns. The west side has big farms, water districts with one dollar, one vote rules, no cities worth, no non-farm anything**.

I can’t get too worked up over it. For one thing, if there is a cause in water district voting structures, it is long lost. Second, most districts assess landowners for improvements by acreage. If landowners are going to pay by the acre, maybe they should vote by the acre. Wouldn’t want a bunch of little guys to decide on a canal that one big landowner would substantially pay for. So I dunno. I don’t have a huge stake in it. But it crossed my mind when I read that article and having two whole thoughts as I read a short article is reason enough to tell you water stories.

*I’ll have you all know that I walked across the street to get a copy of Bulletin 155-94, General Comparison of Water District Acts, and carried a paper copy of it back to my desk. Don’t you ever question my dedication to accuracy on this here blog. I’m glad I did. I’d never heard of half these kinds of districts. A Protection District, to protect property from overflow damage by widening, deepening, changing, straightening, etc., channel of any innavigable stream, watercourse or wash? Resort Improvement Districts? Districts created by individual acts of the Legislature? New obscure forms of government? LOVE IT.

**It is true for the length of the Great Valley that cities on the 5 are horrible places, with the exception of Red Bluff. Towns on the 99 can be lovely and usually have at least remnant downtowns. (Um, Sacramento is on both. I guess I think it has the characteristics of a city on the 99.) But if you really want to go to an eerie place in California, you should divert west of the 5 south of Coalinga to go to Avenal. Avenal and that whole valley is very strange. The prison is there, and there is an entire settlement up on one hill that looks to be entirely makeshift, dozens of houses on dirt, no visible infrastructure. Chickens and clotheslines and no foundations. With zero evidence whatsoever, I’ve decided it is a frontier type place; I imagine it is run by some local strongman. Like I say, I have absolutely no proof of that, but when I mentioned Avenal to my boss, he emphatically agreed that it is a lost place. I’m sure that if the comments were on, someone would show up to tell me that Avenal is just lovely, a place with real great neighbors. (Also, you guys know that Coalinga is named that because it used to be Coaling Station A, right?)


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