CAB throws water on district formation plans
February 26, 2014
By DANIEL BLACKBURN
A group representing hundreds of rural landowners in Creston won’t support a proposed North County water district as presently envisioned by its advocates.
Sheila Lyons, chair of the Creston Advisory Body (CAB), sent a letter to Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian (R-San Luis Obispo) Monday suggesting that members of the CAB and others in the community “are firmly opposed” to formation of a district based on an acreage vote, and “could petition to opt out of any district formed as currently proposed.”
Lyons said CAB members voted unanimously, responding “Out!” when polled regarding inclusion in, or exclusion from, a new district. Lyons reminded Achadjian that the CAB “covers approximately 80,000 acres” — half of which are inside the proposed water district’s boundaries.
“The majority of the area’s 4,900 landowners, 86 percent,” she said, will be excluded from the “conversation on whether or not to have a water district, or who would manage the district.”
Fifth District Supervisor Debbie Arnold, who represents most of the CAB’s area, said she’s gratified by the group’s decision.
“This is a very important step for landowners in the basin,” she told CalCoastNews. “This is the formation of a new agency, with powers to tax and regulate. I have gotten an extraordinary amount of correspondence from landowners opposed to this new district as it is proposed.”
If the CAB were to be successful in a future petition to opt out, the proposed district’s anticipated revenue base could be severely impacted. District proponents anticipate its borders will encompass about 215,000 acres.
Plans are proceeding on a fast track to legislatively authorize formation of a district to manage the Paso Robles aquifer; Achadjian is gearing up to shepherd it through the lawmaking process during the coming session.
The lawmaker previously told a number of constituents that he would back the legislation if there was widespread support for it among those affected by a district’s formation. But even amid growing public dissent, and only moments after county supervisors split 3-2 in favor of endorsing the enabling legislation, Achadjian, citing “cooperation,” announced he would push forward with it.
In her letter, Lyons said the CAB has supported “in general” the need for a management structure for the basin, but “our members and the community at large are firmly opposed to this specific water district and the proposed means for voting on the formation and for the members of the board of directors.”
Community members would be disenfranchised by such a vote, Lyons insisted.
“The formation vote for any water district should be based on one parcel one vote, if a landowner vote is required, or one person one vote, representing all the residents who live and use water over the basin,” she wrote. “Under no circumstances is a vote by acreage a fair method for determining public acceptance of such an essentially irrevocable proposal that will affect all landowners forced into a district that has the ability to tax, regulate and enforce water policies. The majority of landowners will have their water rights ‘taken’ from them without an opportunity to have their opinions heard at the ballot box.”
Responding to the CAB’s letter, Achadjian said his legislation “will only make changes to the Water Code to address the composition of the board of directors. My bill will not create the district – it will only allow this unique board of directors designed specifically for the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin.”
Members of the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo) will have jurisdiction over formation of the district, he added, including setting district boundaries and establishing powers and duties.
“I have heard your concerns regarding the boundaries and want to let you know that any area in the basin may request from LAFCo to be excluded from the boundaries of the new water district,” the assemblyman said, adding that water banking and water exporting “is a deeply concerning issue, but the appropriate place to address these concerns is again at the LAFCo level.”
Among the suggestions CAB forwarded to Achadjian:
– CAB would support formation of a district focusing “on groundwater management over the ‘cone of depression’ in the northwestern part of the basin and the immediate surrounding impacted areas;”
– Formation and governing board must be determined by “one parcel, one vote,” and not based on acreage;
– A mandated prohibition of water exportation from the basin, whether “native” or “imported,” and retaining all surplus water for future use.
Semitropic on “comparable” list
Meanwhile, an Oakland consulting firm, Hydrometrics Water Resources Inc., has provided San Luis Obispo County planners with a list of California water agencies “that may have comparable roles and functions to those envisioned for the new Paso Robles water district.”
In a Jan. 31 email, Laura Brown, Hydrometrics senior adviser, told San Luis Obispo County Public Works Director Paavo Ogren that at least a dozen agencies in the state could be considered.
Then, wrote Brown, “The list would be vetted to five that most closely match the Paso Robles concept, and then obtain information from them that can help guide Paso Robles’ (water district) budget decisions.”
The “comparable” list provided for Ogren:
Semitropic Water Storage District; Desert Water Agency; Fox Canyon Groundwater Management Agency; Honey Lake Groundwater Management District; Kern County Water Agency; Long Valley Groundwater Management District; Mendocino City Community Services District; Mono County Tri-Valley Groundwater Management District; Ojai Groundwater Management Agency; Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency; Sierra Valley Groundwater Management District; Willow Creek Groundwater Management Agency.
Get updates on Daniel Blackburn’s reporting on the Paso Robles Basin by liking CalCoastNews on Facebook.