Last year, the state’s Department of Water Resources approved the formation of IRWMPs, (Integrated Regional Water Management Plans) to be created by non-regulatory collectives to “encourage regional strategies for management of water resources … investigate a broad spectrum of management strategies, identify the benefits of integrating water management strategies, and identify priorities for implementing projects and program.”
Since then, the Inyo-Mono region’s IRWMP has assembled its own “rainbow coalition,” with a multi-county collective mix of 40 public and private entities. One color it may want to consider: “Brown” as part of that rainbow’s spectrum.
California’s Brown Act says “meetings of public bodies must be open and public, actions may not be secret and actions taken in violation of open meeting laws may be voided.” IRWMP was set up to be “non-regulatory,” and is comprised of both private and public entities. Is it exempt? Good question.
On the surface, it seems that what we have is a state-authorized entity that has on its board elected officials (Inyo and Mono county Boards of Supervisors), which has access to Prop 84 Water Conservation Act dollars (by way of Caltrout – that’s taxpayer money) and intends to apply for state and/or federal planning grant funds.
Assistant County Counsel Stacey Simon said she’s researching the question, and has so far determined that agendizing the IRWMP agendas as part of the Mono Board of Supervisors meetings keeps the Board in the clear, and we agree on that point. Counselor Simon also indicated to Mono Supervisors that what she’s found so far leads her to think that the IRWMP isn’t covered under the Brown Act, though she stopped short of saying that was the case, since her examination of the issue isn’t yet complete.
I’m not necessarily disagreeing with Simon, and I’m not a lawyer, but I do have some familiarity with the Brown Act. The way I read it, IRWMP, being set forth by DWR, falls under the Brown Act provision covering “legislative bodies of each agency,” specifically as concerns “… any board, commission, committee, task force or other advisory body created by the agency, whether permanent or temporary.” Members who sit on the Water Resources Board, were either elected or appointed by elected officials, and have to conduct meetings under the Brown Act, thus my thought that it’s appropriate the DWR’s IRWMP spin-off should as well.
IRWMP arguably may not have been “created” by the agency in the strict sense, but then it also remains to be seen whether IRWMP remains completely “non-regulatory” in the strict sense.
Recent state bills, the new landscaping ordinance mandates for example, have the potential to put the state in the driver’s seat when it comes to groundwater monitoring. Indeed, Senate Bill SB 6 would, if passed, “establish a groundwater monitoring program pursuant to which specified entities [IRWMP in particular], may be designated by the Department of Water Resources as groundwater monitoring entities.”
And in terms of authority, the State Water Resources Board has given IRWMPs more authority on water issues than even the counties. IRWMPs — largely non-elected groups that don’t answer to voters — outrank county governments. (In fairness, Mono County does, at least for now, retain veto power that it can use to essentially kill or send back any policy items, even if approved by the rest of the 39 members.)
The logic that if you don’t talk about anything that falls under the Brown Act, you’re exempt frankly doesn’t fly. And conference calls don’t let you off the hook, either. If you have a public meeting, it doesn’t matter whether or where conference calls are being held. Financial opportunities aside, any decisions on policy items affecting water rights holders, should be public. Taxpayer dollars are on the line and elected officials are by extension involved in the process, whether overtly or behind-the-scenes.
Santa Barbara County’s IRWMP Memorandum of Understanding states that its own IRWMP Steering Committee shall “carry out all of its proceedings in accordance with the Brown Act.”
I do agree with Interim District 4 Supervisor Bob Peters’ take that it’s “better to be in the tent than not.” If Mono County can be helpful as an IRWMP member, it should certainly do so; but if it’s to be trumped on any level, it should at least stay current with IRWMP agendas and if need be wield its veto power to thwart any perceived political end runs.
Mono County should stand its ground and at least weigh in with letters of support, abstain or opposition at the Board level on any IRWMP action items to protect Mono County and maintain autonomy.
As I said, I’m not a lawyer. I could be completely wrong. But if IRWMP isn’t covered under the Brown Act, there should at least be a full, reasonably detailed explanation given to the public.
Water is not only a precious resource, but rights to it are equally as precious and valuable … ask anyone who’s got land sitting on top of some. Opportunities for rights holders to benefit from IRWMP’s efforts exhibit great potential. So does exploitation of their rights for use in a socialized redistribution system they may have little or no say in.
Public process may be an extra step that further complicates IRWMP’s methodology, but where water is concerned, county governments, the public and right holders especially should accept no substitute.