Chaos Continues to Reign in California Reclamation District

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While State Showcases Levee Reform, Citizens Need Ready Access to Vital Public Information.

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An embattled reclamation district under fire for a series of questionable actions continues to complicate California’s efforts to promote widespread repair and reform of levees throughout the state. This enduring controversy has expanded now to include what one observer called a “curious lack of cooperation” among officials of the Department of Water Resources.

Mary Grundman, spokesperson for Thornton Citizens for Representative Government and a resident of Reclamation District 348 and Thornton, California, said, “For years, RD 348 has failed to keep the public trust, operated in an undemocratic fashion and made our region less safe. The State of California must reveal all it knows about this to the people.”

The latest occurrence roiling these policy waters took place in June at a public meeting in West Sacramento, one of six separate workshops convened by the state to discuss emergency repair work schedules for 29 critical erosion sites on the Sacramento River Flood Control System.

In response to a public question, Les Harder, Deputy Director for Public Safety and Business Operations for the Department of Water Resources, said, “We have taken over reclamation districts in the past. There are 10 in the state. One is located in (Sacramento’s) Pocket area.”

This startling disclosure moved the Thornton Citizens for Representative Government to request a list of these districts. After repeated requests, the information was not forthcoming.

“I acknowledge Thornton is a small town in America’s largest state, just as I understand that the DWR has a great many concerns that it handles every day,” said Grundman. “But here’s the bottom line: If a weak link in California’s larger chain of levees breaks, we could all be underwater. That’s why the problems with RD 348 must be addressed right now.”

Also increasing pressure upon RD 348 is an editorial by environmentalist Peter Asmus published over the weekend in the Sacramento Bee that stated, “Decisions at RD 348 and other reclamation districts are not subject to many of the customs associated with open, democratic government. Angry Thornton citizens cite alleged violations of open meeting notices and public record protocols … the Federal Emergency Management Agency has ruled the district is no longer eligible for federal disaster relief funds due to mismanagement.”

Reclamation District 348 was organized in the early 20th Century on approximately 9,000 acres in the northern portion of California’s San Joaquin Valley. The statutory responsibility of RD 348 is to maintain and improve a levee system that protects Thornton from Mokelume River flooding. A California public agency, RD 348 is governed by a three-member board of trustees elected by district landowners, apportioned by a formula of one acre/one vote, with no limitation on acres or votes. Therefore, a small group of landowners controls the voting process.

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