Court-supervised groundwater management

December 9, 2013

Cindy SteinbeckOPINION By CINDY STEINBECK

“Management” of the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin is a hot topic. Our groundwater basin will be managed. The question and struggle is about who will manage and what rules will apply. California law offers fundamentally different options for groundwater management. I helped organize the Protect Our Water Rights group. We believe that court-supervised groundwater management is the most beneficial option for to landowners who would like to retain their water rights under California law.

The process began by filing “quiet title” — essentially requesting that a court recognize our water rights. Quiet title is the appropriate method for a landowner to protect property rights, including water rights. If someone was trying to take away a property right in another way, for example by walking or driving across a parcel or moving a fence over someone else’s parcel, everyone would understand the need to take the person to court to prevent the loss. Water rights are exactly the same, they need to be protected.

The county and cities are named in the filing. They have a full right to “disclaim.” Disclaiming would mean that the county and cities declare to the court that they are not claiming any “right, title, or interest” to our water rights. If the county and cities choose not to “disclaim” it would mean they are clearly trying to “claim a right”. If they do not disclaim then a court will then evaluate ‘rival claims’ and then, using information from neutral and unbiased technical experts, manage the supply and demand of the groundwater basin to ensure the health of the basin.

Court ordered management can include surface water importation and groundwater recharge, if necessary. Imported water will stay in the basin and not be sold outside the county. Once established, this form of management gives certainty to all water users, including those who sell water drawn from the basin. This long-range certainty is the principle advantage of court-supervised management. The Protect Our Water Rights group put this option on the table for all other landowners interested in retaining their rights.

The competing option is management by some governmental body. It might be the ‘California Water District’ that PRAAGS is petitioning to form. More likely the district will be a joint powers authority grouping the water district with the county, and the local municipal purveyors. Caution is needed with management by a joint powers authority because it can put power in the hands of people that were never directly elected by anyone. Whatever the details, it will be a governmental board that makes decisions. They can change their minds. They can charge taxes and fees. Nobody has any real long-term certainty.

Our group is convinced that court-supervised management of our water is preferable. We welcome landowners who think that our approach makes sense. Landowners would be wise to back away from the PRAAGS petition which seeks to form yet another governmental agency. Our county supervisors should put the brakes on their rush to a more robust AB-3030 management until they become better informed about the full implications of the management plan that they appear to support.

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Cindy Steinbeck is owner of Steinbeck Vineyards & Winery. She is head of marketing and sales for their family businesses.


15 Comments

  1. pigsrule says:

    There are obviously a lot of people who believe they know what’s right. I don’t. However, what I don’t like is what is happening and that is politics being played rather than doing what’s right for all the citizens.

    I do know that when you own property such as the farmers do, they own the rights to the water.

    What is obvious is that we have to have a special water district to help manage the problem that exists – the good thing is no one argues with that.

    The battle appears to be whether we want a judicial or political body governing our water district. The political body will be mostly governed by appointees chosen with only a few actually voted in by the public. That sounds more manipulative. Big landowners can be hard to trust but politicians prove over and over to be even harder to trust.

    I said it before, but be careful what you wish for.

    http://pasowinebarrels.wordpress.com/2013/12/09/paso-robles-water-problem-continued/

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

    • NCGuy says:

      I would argue that the way that the Water District is attempting to be formed is horribly deceptive and will probably be the most detrimental thing that has ever happend in Paso Robles.

      We have a precious resource that is valuable and should not be sold under any circumstance. The Water Distirict or whatever entity might be formed, will import water for other entities to hold until they ask for the water, at that time, the pumps will start sucking until that contract is fullfilled. This will be indiscriminant of the amount of “native groundwater” which is ours and the now Co-Mingled “Imported Water” from the State Water Project. The accounting for this water is shaddy at best and smacks of ENRON who by the way tried to get into this water market unsucessfully.

      County Flood Control lead by Mr. Ogren is currently running a pilot test to confirm the feasability to do just this type of banking in conjunction with a Water District from Orange County. Why would an Orange County Water District want anything to do with this sort of thing?….

      The only way you can accomplish transactions like this is for the count to form a Joint Powers with a separate entity (Water District) just like the one being proposed by PRAAGS.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  2. Citizen says:

    I confess that I don’t fully understand the Steinbeck proposals. If the quiet title and the elimination of the moratorium is achieved by Steinbeck, doesn’t that mean we are back where we started?

    Each county property owner pumps his own water and if his water disappears, then too bad. And we will again see the flood of new wine people moving into the county converting pasture land to irrigated acres (wine grapes).

    What does this quiet title lawsuit mean to the city of Paso trying to build massive housing developments to add 14,000 people (water users) to the city. They will be taking more ground water because the Nacimiento water has to be mixed half and half with non contaminated water–ground water– to be potable.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  3. despicableme says:

    It Is all about the money for her.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 20 Thumb down 8

    • NCGuy says:

      There is no money involved on the behalf of the property owner using “quiet title” to secure their rights. She has taken a stance that the water under her property is hers to use “reasonably and for beneficial use”. Obviously those terms can be debated and would be.

      She is using the law to establish a hierarchy of users of the water. For instance, lets say someone placed their fence beyond their property line and onto your property and wanted to claim “adverse posession” of that portion of property. They can legally do that if you were to never stand up and claim what is yours. You need to file with the courts to claim that that property is yours and have them recognize that fact. Dispute Over!

      The Cities that are pumping water from the basin are esentially “re-sellers” of the water to their city residents. Entities that “re-sell” water (purveyors) do not have the same rights to the water, this does not mean they do not have rights to the water, theirs are just secondary to the rights of the Overliers who have “quiet titled” their property.

      The entities/persons that would say not to quite title your property are ones who have a monetary interest, as they are re-sellers of the water, i.e, water districts, joint powers, cities, municipalities, etc.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

  4. rigrhonda says:

    It’s time for Ms. Stienbeck to disclose the membership in the group(s) she says she helped organize. No fair hiding behind “John Does” and all those euphemistic alphabet soup group names. Come out, come out whomever you are!

    I am sure the taxpayers of San Luis Obispo County and the State will be thrilled to pay for years and years of court time and proceedings so Ms. Stienbeck et al can guard their perceived “rights” and continue to pump water at will and without regard to the overall health of the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin. There are a myriad of issues that will have to be death with to provide sound management of this precious resource, and certainly not just the perceived right of individual landowners to pump whenever and at will.

    Frankly, a lot of vineyards are operating with a flawed business plan, requiring free and unlimited water in perpetuity. You are growing a relatively thirsty crop in an arid region with a finite resource. Any problems there?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 27 Thumb down 6

  5. Pelican1 says:

    Is this not an attempt to remove political decision making from the equation, the same political decision making that has helped destroy the Central Valley?
    Are not the environmental regulators appointed by the politicians destroying private property rights and removing water rights at an alarming rate across the state.
    Let the court manage this issue.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 5

  6. Jorge Estrada says:

    The ownership of real property is very precious as are the rights of owners. Should any of the rights become willingly negotiable, then the discussion must be about a sale transaction not a taking without compensation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 6

    • 1inthemiddle says:

      The problem that is being addressed is the question if a landowner has rights to an unlimited amount of water because they can put a straw down to the aquifer. Even those of us idealistic libertarians understand that the limits of individual rights are reached when the exercise of those rights adversely effects another. In this case sucking up water to the harm of other users.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 17 Thumb down 2

      • FineWine says:

        What many people don’t seem to understand. When you own property you do not really own the land you own a bundle of rights that goes with that piece of property. It’s not simply a rights issue, it’s an ownership issue. if they can arbitrarily steal one of those rights than they are taking away a piece of your ownership with zero compensation. Which means you don’t own anything. It seems that many people within the basin are being led like sheep to slaughter.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 8

        • 1inthemiddle says:

          What right is being stolen specifically.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2

        • OnTheOtherHand says:

          But what about the point 1inthemiddle is making? Are those “rights” you are talking about unlimited when they involve a commonly held resource like ground water? That is like saying that I have the right to pollute the air above my property — ignoring the issue that such pollution isn’t restricted to my airspace.

          I would have no problem with people who could prove that they are drawing water from a source that doesn’t extend beyond their property lines establishing a right to that water. But when there are different parties with access rights to the same pool of groundwater, unlimited access to that water can’t work unless the groundwater is replenished at rates equal to or greater than the draw-down. That seems to be the situation in the Paso Robles area.

          I don’t know what the best solution is but I would not want it to be based on the relative wealth of some landowners and their subsequent ability to continually drill deeper wells and build bigger storage basins.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 1

          • NCGuy says:

            You are absolutely right, do not let the wealthy land owners determine the fate of your water and tax bills, because this is exactly what is going to happen. A Water District or whatever the boys at PRAAGS/ProWater are trying establish will do just that, Water and Irrigation Districts are Good Old Boy politics at thier best. You think the BOS is bad just wait.

            Adjudication of the Basin is in the best interest of ALL parties, except those looking to profit from the water under our feet.

            Once Adjudicated, the Un-biased Courts will decide the rights and install a Water Manager to protect the basin from any ill effects of pumping. This will keep politics out and un-biased decision making in.

            Adjudication will cost much less than the infrastructure and tax assessments that not only will we pay for, but the generations to come will have to pay for as well.

            Pay a little now, or pay A LOT FOREVER!

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 3

  7. cooperdog says:

    “Once established, this form of management gives certainty to all water users, including those who sell water drawn from the basin.”

    Seems like the wineries should be considered among those that sell water drawn from the basin. Just ’cause they convert the water into wine doesn’t change the fact that they’re taking water from the basin to sell it somewhere else.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 25 Thumb down 7

    • 1inthemiddle says:

      It would seem to me that the state adjudicated system that will result from this lawsuit is what Ms Stienbeck professes to be avoiding. To claim a locally managed solution removes the process from the locals but state mandated adjudication does not is a very confusing agreement.
      It is also ridiculous to suggest that the city of Paso Robles should or would avoid any claim to basin water rights. Her lawsuit will draw every landowner in the basin into it because they have potential claim no matter what the county does.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 3

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