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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Political structure and management decisions in California's agricultural water districts


In California, special districts which provide agricultural customers with water supplies and service control the vast majority of water rights and contracts. The structure of these districts has been identified as an impediment to changing water management and distribution practices. This study explores how differences in the governance rules and political structures among these water-supply district "cooperatives" affect their management decisions.

Most districts use either the common "universal suffrage / one-man, one vote" CPV) electoral system, such as irrigation districts, or a "land-owner enfranchised / assessed-value-weighted vote" (AVV) method, such as California water districts, to elect board members and to approve various tax and bond measures. AVV districts most closely mirror what would be used in an aggregate wealth-maximizing cooperative; PV districts distribute a greater amount of benefits to non-land-owners. As a result, PV district managers tend to rely less on water sales revenues and more on property-based taxes and assessments to fund district operations. In addition, PV districts tend to set district policies that encourage more local-input- ntensive crops such as orchards over field crops.

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