Plan for a balanced groundwater district
October 14, 2013
OPINION By WILLIAM FROST
An apparent consensus reached over the past several months is that a special water district is required to deal with the water crisis in San Luis Obispo’s North County. The day-to-day actions of this district would be defined and administered by a board of directors, and it is essential that the election procedure for this board be designed to provide a fair and equitable representation to all water users in the district.
The boundaries of the affected area are as defined in the urgency ordinance recently adopted by the SLO County Board of Supervisors, namely “… all properties within the unincorporated areas of San Luis Obispo County that overlie the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin except those properties that overlie the Atascadero Sub-Basin and those properties served by County Service Area 16 (Shandon Water District) or the San Miguel Community Services District.”
Lacking a better name, this defined area will hereinafter be called the urgency ordinance sub-basin, and referred to as the sub-basin.
The Paso Robles Agricultural Alliance for Groundwater Solutions has recently petitioned the Local Agency Formation Commission to create a California water district for the sub-basin. The board of directors in PRAAGS proposed district would be elected by voting proportional to land ownership in the sub-basin; this could be accomplished by allowing one vote per acre of land owned, on voting based on assessed land value, or on any such mechanism which favored ownership of large parcels.
Obviously this type of district would vest control of the board, and the district, in a small group of large vineyards and ranches and, while suitable in a totally agricultural context, would disenfranchise most rural district residents who depend on domestic wells. Considering the inequity involved, and as California water code prioritizes domestic use of water, LAFCO would be correct in rejecting PRAAGS’ current application.
A more equitable alternative for the sub-basin is a special water district whose board of directors is balanced by providing an equal number of agricultural and domestic representatives, say two directors for each group. The two agricultural directors could be elected by voting proportional to land ownership in the sub-basin as in the California water district, whereas the two domestic representatives would be elected at-large by all property owners within the sub-basin, one vote per owner, with residency and ownership established by the SLO County assessor. As the two groups of directors would represent divergent and competing interests, one additional director, chosen to provide objectivity and to break ties, would be appointed by the county supervisors from the pool of sub-basin residents.
It is my hope that this simple structure will serve as the basis for development of an effective plan to fairly balance the distribution of existing and future water resources of the sub-basin.
William M. Frost is a software engineer who retired from the aerospace industry in 2007. He is a rural Paso Robles resident.