Tehama County Grand Jury Report Unveils Damning Findings Against Groundwater Sustainability Agency

Red Bluff, California – The recently released 2023 Tehama County Grand Jury Report has exposed various issues within the Tehama County Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA). The report, which sheds light on the agency’s shortcomings, is now available for public access. The report can be found at the following link: [insert link here].

Columnist Shanna Long has done an excellent job summarizing the report and providing an explanation of the new survey mailings for well registration. I encourage readers to refer to her article in Thursday’s edition of our newspaper or access it online for a comprehensive understanding of the matter at hand.

In my opinion, the Grand Jury has done a commendable job addressing the complex issue of groundwater management, which involves multiple intricate factors. The Flood Control Water Conservation District (FCWCD) receives substantial criticism in the report, rightfully so, for its approval of the 29-cent fee, ongoing contracts with consultants Luhdorff and Scalmanini, allocation of $634,000 in “loans” from the Roads Department, and engagement with external legal assistance.

However, it is important to note that the responsibility of researching these matters falls on the County Counsel and the Groundwater Commission. Until recently, the Groundwater Commission held decision-making and regulatory powers. It is essential to recognize that neither the FCWCD nor the Groundwater Commission possess legal backgrounds, with the exception of Bart Fleharty, a water lawyer. Surprisingly, County Counsel provided reassurance that the 29-cent funding mechanism and associated actions were legally permissible, even instructing the Auditor to attach the fee to property taxes.

Furthermore, the Grand Jury highlights the Groundwater Commission’s decision, with County Counsel’s support, to charge all county residents the 29-cent fee, even those residing outside the critical sub-basins in the valley, over which the GSA has jurisdiction. This approach, intended to facilitate the identification of all wells in the county, has proven to be a mere delay tactic, as the county already possesses records of all well permits issued since 1980.

A more efficient method of forming the well registry would be to utilize artificial intelligence to search Google Maps satellite data or simply conduct a physical survey of the county. The fact that taxpayer money is being wasted on unnecessary procedures should cause concern among residents.

In regard to County Counsel, it is worth mentioning that the law firm of Prentice Long, which serves as our County Counsel, has been subject to criticism in the past. Since their appointment, legal fees have skyrocketed, and the level of service provided has been unsatisfactory.

There have been instances where County Counsel has steered the GSA in the wrong direction. For instance, they wrongly advised the agency regarding the per-acre charge on county residents and the possibility of making interbudgetary fund transfers. It is crucial to distinguish that the GSA, while being held accountable for their actions, also received no blame from the Grand Jury Report for their wrongdoings. This is due to the fact that Andrew Plett, former Tehama County Deputy County Counsel and legal advisor to the Grand Jury, currently works for Prentice Long, safeguarding him from being terminated.

In summary, County Counsel has simultaneously guided the GSA toward questionable actions while blaming the board for their compliance. Through closed sessions, Margaret Long, a prominent figure within County Counsel, has manipulated the Brown Act to ensure compliance with her advice. This misuse of power and the ill-timed issuance of a well survey request reflect the disarray within the agency.

Residents have the opportunity to voice their opinions regarding the Grand Jury Report during the Flood Control Water Conservation District Board meeting taking place on Monday at 10 a.m. Additionally, Supervisor Candy Carlson will be hosting a Town Hall meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, with Julia Svetlana Juarez from the State Insurance Commissioner’s Office as a guest speaker. The Board of Supervisors meeting will follow on Tuesday at 8:30 a.m., and the Groundwater Commission will convene on Wednesday, also at 8:30 a.m. All meetings will occur at 727 Oak St., Red Bluff.