Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO) | January 2nd, 1922
The past decade has seen a marked increase in the organization of irrigation districts in California. This has naturally been accompanied by, and in fact has also large
The past decade has seen a marked increase in the organization of irrigation districts in California. This has naturally been accompanied by, and in fact has also largely resulted from, fundamental improvements in the Wright Irrigation District Act as revised and re-enacted in 1897 and now by law designated the "California Irrigation District Act."
The original Wright Act was plainly defective, among other particulars, in not providing for sufficient state supervision to prevent the organization of wholly speculative districts and districts for other reasons not justified or feasible; also in failing to give the state any control of irrigation district finances. During the eight years, 1887 to 1895, immediately following the original enactment, each succeeding legislature passed amendments of more or less importance, but these did not correct the fundamental objections, either as to organization or financing. More important changes were made when the law was re-enacted, in 1897, under the legislative leadership of Judge E.A. Bridgford. The essential purport of the law was not, however, altered by this re-enactment and the new act was in many of its provisions but a slight verbal revision of the old one. Radical changes, however, were made in the procedure for organization and for incurring indebtedness.
These changes were planned virtually to stop new development under the law and for more than ten years that was their effect. The legislature that substituted the amended law also passed a funding act under which districts were permitted to discharge their indebtedness with new bonds. For the next four years the law was left unaltered, but beginning in 1901, and more particularly at each legislature from 1909 to 1921, amendments and supplementary acts have been adopted that have greatly changed and strengthened it. The more essential changes have been as follows: (1) Requiring petitions for the formation of irrigation districts to be referred by the board of supervisors of counties to the state engineer for report, and giving the state engineer ninety days in which to "report, make or cause to be made such preliminary investigations as may be practicable, with a view to determining the feasibility of the project 'proposed to be undertaken;" (2) creating an irrigation district bond commission, composed of the state engineer, state superintendent of banks, and the attorney general of the state, which, prior to bond elections, must pass on proposed bond issues, and which may validate bonds that have been voted, in whole or in part, so as to make them legal investments for funds of banks, insurance and trust companies, trusts and state school funds, and so as to permit them to be used as security for the performance of any act the same as bonds of cities, counties, school districts or municipalities; (3) permitting the organization of districts to be proposed by 500 petitioners, each petitioner, to the number of at least 500, to be an elector residing in the proposed district or the holder of title or evidence of title to land therein; (4) reducing the number of votes necessary to carry the organization of an irrigation district from two-thirds to a majority of all votes cast; and (5) permitting boards of directors of districts to call bond elections to cover expenditures, approved by the irrigation district bond commission, without petition of the landowners, as necessary from 1897 to 1919, but requiring a two-thirds instead of a majority vote to carry such elections.