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Conaway Ranch Land and Water Deal

Conaway Ranch made headlines across the nation in 2004 when Yolo County attempted to eminent domain the over 17,300 acre ranch. The land grab alarmed the agricultural community. Family Water Alliance fought tirelessly to protect the privately owned ranch from this action.

The Conaway Preservation Group (CPG) has owned and managed the ranch for decades, but since the eminent domain proceedings the real value of the property has always been uncertain. In recent months, Angelo K. Tsakopoulos, a Sacramento developer, entered negotiations with CPG and Yolo County to purchase the controlling shares of Conaway Ranch. The terms of this contract include not only 4,000 acres of habitat restoration, but also 80,000 acre foot of surface water transfer to Metropolitan Water District. In addition, there are also plans for public access and a land donation of 5 acres to the Department of Fish and Game and the Yolo Basin Foundation for the Pacific Flyway Center. The contract was approved in December on a 3/2 vote by the Yolo County Board of Supervisors.

In October 2010, the Yolo County Board of Supervisors passed a moratorium on all habitat restoration projects fearing that they were losing their agricultural economic base and becoming the mitigation bank for the problems plaguing the Delta. The deal with Tsakopoulos exempts Conaway Ranch for this 2 year moratorium.

The proposed land and water deal with Tsakopoulos
was rushed through the public meeting process and some have concerns that there may be violations of public meeting act laws. Others expressed concern over the water transfer and potential water supply impacts to the current tenant farmers on the ranch.

Most outspoken about the rushed public notice is Supervisor Jim Provenza, who voted against the contract along with Supervisor Duane Chamberlin. Most concerns center around the inadequate time for stakeholders to weigh in prior to the vote of the Board.

Those in the environmental community have supported the deal, but some still remain uncertain. Water transfers from north to south will continue to increase until we invest in additional surface storage infrastructure and can guarantee adequate water allocations for all water users. ■

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