As of September 7, 2006, the dispute about the takeover of Conaway Ranch by the county under eminent domain has been resolved. The county did not take over the ranch, but reached a settlement with the Conaway Preservation Group, owners of the ranch, regarding the use and preservation of Conaway Ranch.
The settlement states that water on the land will first be used on the ranch for agriculture, open space, recreation and habitat. Water cannot be sold off the ranch unless it is over the surplus amount and exceeds the required amount of water for the uses of the land. Surplus water that is sold or transferred in the county requires a county notice and input.
The sale of out-of-county long term (more than one year) surplus water will first be negotiated by the county, and the county will receive 7.5 percent of all long-term water transfers. The county will also negotiate the purchase of short-term (less than one year) out-of-county surplus water and will receive 2 percent of the proceeds from the transfers or the fee adopted as part of the water ordinance, whichever is larger.
As for the groundwater on Conaway Ranch, any extraction must be consistent with the groundwater management plan.
The CPG has to consult with the county on public access to specific areas of the ranch, but it does reserve the right to sell or grant easements on all or parts of the ranch. It also has the right to sell small parcels of the ranch without prior notification of the county. However, no more than a total of 1500 acres of small parcels can be sold. All sold parcels of Conaway Ranch will still be subject to county land use policy regulations.
In the future, the Yolo County Board of Supervisors has the first right to negotiate with CPG over the purchase of parts or all of Conaway Ranch.
The last stipulation to the settlement is that CPG has to reimburse the county for its attorney fees, cost and expenses in the amount of $2.4 million.
“This agreement brings to a successful conclusion what all parties said they wanted-protecting a critical resource in Yolo County,” said Chairman Frank Sieferman, Jr. in a September 7 press release on the Yolo County website.
Over 17,300 acres of farmland, open space, and wildlife habitat make up the Conaway Ranch. Located along the Sacramento River, the ranch is home to Yolo County’s largest natural gas fields and plays an important role in flood control and rural recreation. Rights to about 50,000-acre feet of surface water also go with the land.
The ranch was put up for sale in the spring of 2004, by National Energy and Gas Transmission (NEGT). The sale was a closed bidding process and was not legally open to the county. The Yolo County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on July 8, 2004 to pursue eminent domain after efforts to negotiate with NEGT were denied. The Conaway Preservation Group purchased the ranch in December 2004, after eminent domain proceedings were initiated.
In November of 2005, Yolo County Superior Court Judge Timothy Fall ruled that the county had the legal right to acquire the ranch for public benefit. The valuation trial was set for October 31, 2006, but the settlement was reached before the trial began. The eminent domain proceedings have been officially dismissed.