Strategic priorities for San Luis Obispo County

August 12, 2013
Debbie Arnold

Debbie Arnold


1) Dry Wells

Our top priority must be assisting those residents with dry wells.

a) If wells weren’t dry, the decline of the basin would be a problem, not a crisis.

b) Urgency is required because wells are going dry, and therefore urgency actions should focus first and foremost on dealing with the dry wells.

c) Each year this county has purchased the right to approximately 25,000 acre-feet of state water. However, we only take roughly 8,500 acre-feet and sell the balance of water that our residents have paid for. Rather than that water coming into our county, the profits from the sale of that water goes into a reserve account held here at the county by the Flood Control District (estimated $4.5 million).


Prepare a staff report detailing options for how the Flood Control District’s reserve fund could be used to assist those residents whose wells have gone dry. Include a discussion of options for both financial assistance as well as supplemental water, such as, but not limited to:

How could the county Flood Control District provide low interest loans to affected residents?

How could the county Flood Control District use this reserve to help fund inspections of wells in order to advise residents regarding options (e.g. a failed pump vs. the need for a new well)?

How could the county Flood Control District use this reserve to help secure immediate supplemental water for the hardest hit regions of the basin (e.g. including targeted recharge)?

How could the county Flood Control District use this reserve to help fund the infrastructure necessary to procure supplemental water?

2) Stop Waste

Waste is occurring today, and is something we can stop immediately.

a) Other counties have focused on eliminating waste because it is simple, has immediate impact, and does not produce unintended consequences.

b) Conservation strategies that engage all basin users equally increase the county’s ability to raise the public’s awareness about the water issue and make all basin users part of the solution.


1. Identify additional urgency ordinance language targeting water waste and conservation strategies.

a. Look at Los Angeles County’s urgency conservation ordinance as an example.

3) Manage Demand

Urgency restrictions should be targeted and careful to avoid unintended consequences.

a) Our economy is just beginning to slowly recover.

b) We must exercise extreme care and caution to avoid actions that cost people across this county their property values, jobs or small businesses.

(1) Our actions should make the situation in the North County better – not make a bad situation worse by adopting ordinances that fail to impact the problem, but then do damage to people’s property values and the local economy.

c) The current staff report is a list of ordinances, but does not provide any data quantifying the benefits or impacts of any of the itemized options.

(1) Without specific data, our Board is left to simply close our eyes, reach into the bag and arbitrarily draw out a restrictive ordinance.

(2) We have a public duty to take informed action, not arbitrary action.

d) Let me be clear – nothing in this staff report is inherently unsupportable. If the situation and data supported any of these options as best for the overall needs of our community, I could support any of these items.

i) But right now, I don’t have enough information to analyze, evaluate or compare any of these options. It is just a list.


Update the staff report to include

1) For each of the urgency land use ordinances listed, identify the number of properties and projects that would currently meet the criteria identified in the staff report. For example:

How many projects are currently in the ‘pipeline’ using the various criteria identified in the staff report?

How many properties subject to each of the various proposals currently have financial or other contractual obligations that would be affected by any of the proposed ordinances?

What are the legal implications of adopting an ordinance that adversely impacts an existing contract?

2) How much water would be saved by adopting each of the proposed ordinances?

Provide the supporting data that would allow the board to identify high-impact regions.

3) The economic impact of each of the proposed ordinances, including

Impacts to the land owners directly subject to each of the proposed ordinances

Impacts to industries related to and dependent upon the properties targeted for restricts (e.g. restaurants, hotels, tourist serving small businesses, agricultural manufacturing, labor, etc)

4) Public Process

The staff report raises the issue of public process and the significant interest amongst stakeholders to be involved in these decisions.

a) When we are talking about people’s ability to access water on their property, their investments, their property values, their jobs and livelihoods, we must make time to listen and make sure we understand the full impacts of the decisions that we are making.

b) But this doesn’t need to be a new process that requires additional time.

c) The Blue Ribbon Committee created by this board has that diverse stakeholder representation.


I would like to request that the Blue Ribbon Committee prepare a response to the various urgency ordinances identified in this staff report.

Include a discussion of the various points of view represented on the committee, or the Solutions Sub-committee.

Does the Committee or Solutions Sub-committee recommend any of these urgency ordinances, and if so, which do they believe will provide the greatest benefit?





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Supervisor Arnold – These are comments on your article “Strategic priorities for San Luis Obispo County”; the comments are ordered according to the Section of your article:

1) Dry Wells

How refreshing to finally see some proposals of relative substance on financial assistance to those Paso Robles Groundwater Basin residents whose wells are either failing or have gone dry. At least the $4.5 million in the reserve account should provide seed money to setup the administrative structure necessary to provide effective financial assistance appropriate to those in need. Ultimately, it is presumed that additional funding would be required to extend the help to all who deserve it.

Supplemental water is probably a long-term dream as Monterey county is considering a pipeline to transfer water from Naciemento Lake to the San Antonio Reservoir and will surely be a fierce competitor for any new potential or alternative water resources.

2) Stop Waste

Some waste is undoubtedly occurring, but it is probably less than you might think as most homeowners, farmers, and small vineyards have necessarily had to follow a strict conservation regimen for some time. However, all agricultural and commercial irrigation practices should certainly be monitored to determine if any sort of modification to current processes is justified.

3) Manage Demand

The article evidences major concern about the impacts to landowners and related industries subject to the proposed Urgency Ordinances. But if the ordinances are adopted and implemented as written, there should be no more than minor impact to the affected enterprises. The draft ordinance clearly states that there is no intent to control existing agriculture or irrigation practices although this may have gotten lost in the criticism of the remainder of the proposal. County planning should be faulted for not emphasizing this simple fact.

Quoting from the preliminary ordinance of August 6, 2013 under Existing Irrigated Crop Production: “Option V.A.1 Existing irrigated crop production (including irrigation practices) in effect as of the date of the urgency ordinance can continue until the permittee expands the irrigated crop production or adds a new use other than irrigated crop production.”

The only persons who will object to this facet of the proposed moratorium will be those who are interested in immediate agricultural expansion, and this in the face of our already critically limited water supply.

4) Public Process

A rural resident’s well affects his family, his livelihood, his property values, his investments, and, indeed, his very ability to exist. These are the people who have the most at stake in the health of the Groundwater Basin — these ‘stakeholders’ are entitled to their basic rights on par with any other stakeholders in the Basin.

The population of the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin consists of most of the rural, non-incorporated area of Northern San Luis Obispo county, and comprises an estimated 6,000 plus rural residences in the basin which are entirely dependent upon individual water wells; these residences must be provided fair representation according to water code which prioritizes domestic use of water. Unfortunately, the majority of these rural users are not currently organized into any large cohesive group which can adequately represent their interests in the Blue Ribbon committee. Thus, as presently constituted, the composition of the board of the Blue Ribbon Committee is not representative of the majority of stakeholders in the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin, and small rural landholders must depend on honest objectivity by the remainder of the Board.

My own belief is that the Blue Ribbon Committee was intended to be apolitical and should make no recommendation on matters such as the Urgency Ordinance.

Paso Robles

too many people

You are correct Sir! But, Debbie does not want to tell her friends no more planting. She seems hesitant to buck Mike Browns suggestions at every turn. Did you hear him say that he meets with Debbie weekly? Weekly? How impartial will she be to his wishes?

You make some excellent points.

The outcome of all of this will be pretty predictable. Just like every controversial item al one has to do is FOLLOW THE MONEY.

Why is it that we can’t seem to get anyone with any leadership skills on the Board of Supervisors lately? They are either stooges for outside interests, or, in the case of Adam Hill, just stooges. The whole current lot should go and someone with a brain between their ears and the interests of our friends and neighbors county-wide should be elected to replace each of them. I hold out almost no hope of Arnold and Mecham doing the right thing on this water situation; there is too much money at stake for both of them – they will vote to protect their sugar daddies in the wine and water banking business. We have the best Board of Supes that money can buy – unfortunately, it isn’t our money that bought them, so they don’t serve us.

I think Debbie &/or Frank will vote to throw us away. Or, they may vote for the tiny-est portion, to be able to say to Big Grape, see I voted for you, and they’ll throw us a very small pittance. Too little, Too late. Hope they can live with the results.

The truly sad part of this is that the people who are living in a sustainable manner in Paso are the ones who are being hurt the most because of declining (or kaput) well levels.

They are the ones who live rurally in Paso, on a few acres (or more), with just a horse or two, no lawn or petunia garden…THEY are the heroes who are, and have been, using the land and its resources (including water) sustainably.

And they are the first ones to fall in the battle for Paso’s groundwater sustainability.

sadly, this appears to be true. i grew up on wells. my brother and i have a small dry-land farm in Southern IL. wells are always a challenge. we also have to buy water to supplement our cistern. i’m thinking that it is pretty easy to figure out how much you can pump and how soon you run dry.

what is happening in SLO et all is predictable?

Yes, it is predictable. That is why the refusal of Arnold and Mechum to join Hill and Gibson in taking decisive steps to reverse the precipitous decline of the Paso groundwater basin is such a slap in the face.

We have no lawns. We have no plants. We have no grapes. We do give our pets water. We take very very short showers. We have lost our property value.

We won’t recover our losses. How dare Ms. Arnold not do anything?

While the Brown/Arnold opinion is overall fallacious, I found this point particularly illogical:

b) Urgency is required because wells are going dry, and therefore urgency actions should focus first and foremost on dealing with the dry wells.

The only way this statement can be true is if the gluttonous new vanity- and wine-industry vineyards immediately stopped pulling water from the GW basin.

It is the influx of these vineyards which has caused the precipitous drop in groundwater in the Paso GW basin. While, over time, there would be a drop in water levels do to climate change even if there weren’t the behemoth mega-vineyards, it is the presence of the mega-vineyards which are causing the crisis.

To simply address each residential well as it goes belly-up is, at best, a political band-aid. At worst, it is a demonstration of woefully and absurdly self-serving and inept governing by the supervisors.

We don’t need a face-lift band-aid approach to the Paso GW basin crisis. We need action from the BOS which will actually address the root of the problem: inappropriate and unsustainable land-use practices and water allocations.

It is the historical SB County BOS/Planning and Development actions that supported these unsustainable land-use actions. Planning and Development seem ready to do what is right. It is time for the Board of Supervisors to also get on board.

Mike Brown’s opinion piece above quite deliberately over looks a number of items 1) The county is entitled to state water ONLY when it is available for delivery, it is not during drought years and the only utilization would be basin recharge during wet years. 2) State water is very expensive. 3) No distribution system to those in need is in place. 4) You think people’s wells don’t deliver water to the tap because their pump failed and they just don’t know it? This is a ludicrous proposition, like a mechanic telling you your car is fine, you are just out of gas. Sorry, your well is dry and you need a new one. 5) Low interest loans do not solve financial problems, the amount of the loan would be secured by property taxes and be ahead of the first mortgage holder which could cause you to go underwater on your first with predictable results. 6) $4.5 million in water infrastructure funding? Not going to go very far. 7) Debbie Arnold is not going to “analyze, evaluate, or compare” anything, except to vet it for ineffectualness and PR purposes, her policy is deepest well wins (pro-business). 8) County inaction due to Debbie Arnold is certain and will send the issue to court even faster.

Please, Less insults more facts.

Facts; 1) Wells going dry. 2) Problem known for 20 years, ignored, and now accelerating rapidly. 3) Only effects people (homeowners) not able to go deep. 4) Pro-business, pro-business, pro-business, there are no other considerations. 5) The Resnick’s (google “Kern Water Bank”) are (new) in town and behind PRAAG. 6) The deeper the water the more control.

Please, don’t blink.

I agree.

I especially liked the “MANAGE DEMAND” part. It is quite clear that Mr. Brown’s puppet strings will not allow Arnold to, in any way, do the only thing that will save the Paso basin from going belly-up: MANAGE DEMAND.

And if the Paso basin goes belly-up, it will be because of Debbie Arnold’s selling out the residents to serve her sponsors. Other supervisors (and Paso City officials, to be sure) over the years will have contributed to the disaster, but it will be Debbie Arnold who withholds her vote which dooms Paso residents to a failed GW basin.

Debbie will not vote to save us. We can’t do anything for her.

Moratorium Moratorium Moratorium. Look at all the filings for water wells, Moratorium. If you have a we and need to go deeper, fine.

This is a crisis and should be handled like one. No permits for swimming pools, new or bigger wells, no new development, plantings, water lines, holding pools/ponds, etc. Impose a major fine including jail. This will buy time to do some research and long range planning following up environmental and water testing, reports, etc.

The bleeding of this crisis needs to stop ASAP and take time out. Do the right thing. You are a rancher, you understand the issues. Your new neighbors could be vineyards. After all, they will be looking for open land and new water source. Do it now!

Name the wells that have gone dry ( ID address). Lets work on those now.

11 words

If you have another agenda then you will not ID the wells, as Ms. Arnold has requested as the place to start.

Got Water, or Don’t Got Water. Stand up and be counted and VERIFIED. Life is made up of choices and if you own one of these properties before I am burdened with your problem I want to know why it went dry and what responsibility you had in this outcome. Home owners have rights and home owners have responsibilities and I am only seeing the heavy hand of government being asked for not the responsibility of the home owner.

Was your well too shallow because……fill in the blank. Information is needed.

Are your wells in a portion of the north county that is mainly fed by rain water? What are the facts surrounding your property? We need facts and verifiable facts.

Until that is done I say we are at a stand still and no action should be taken at the board of supervisors.

A cut on the finger is no reason to cut the arm off at the shoulder.

To Phoenix Rising.

My agenda is to save the aquifer for all the residents of the North County. What’s yours? Bigger profits?

The actual listing of dry wells is known by the drilling companies such as Filliponi. People are hesitant to announce that their property had a dry well because it labels their property as water insufficient (in case they want to sell), and because of fire insurance and possible mortgage problems.

When I moved to the North County from AG in 2003, the Jardin area was already experiencing dry wells. A well-known consultant to the vineyards told me personally that 3 vineyards in the Jardin area had wells that had gone dry and they were trucking in water until their new wells were completed. Two others were getting ready to drill deeper wells.

From the people I’ve talked to, the average drop in well levels has been about 100 feet. Many of these small vineyards and property owners have experienced the drop only after large vineyards moved in next door.

To ignore the County Capacity Report for the aquifer and to ignore the take over of small vineyards by global companies/investors and the conversion of dry pasture areas to irrigated vineyards is the height of stupidity. The ignorant fools on KPRL who deny the overdraft of the aquifer are the ones with an agenda and they have been spewing misinformation to the public. Examples: “98% of the vineyards use all the conservation methods available” “only 5 wells have gone dry”, “the aquifer has enough water for the entire state of California”, and from COLAB, “the dry well owners are whiners wanting public assistance”.

I live in Paso. I don’t have a dry well, but the over-drafting of the aquifer will affect Paso because we can’t use the Nacimiento water without mixing it half and half with well water and Salinas River water and the state determines how much Salinas river water we can use. Why should Paso residents pay for Nacimiento water and for drilling deeper wells while more vineyards are allowed in the county.

And do you think that county taxpayers will pay for new county water if nothing is done to stop the growth of vineyards in the county and the increase of well water usage? Why should they?

If you want a real war against the wine industry in the North County, then do nothing about the over-drafting of the aquifer. Nation wide publicity will eventually do in the wine greedsters, but not before our water is compromised. Already, there is a Wine Caucus in Congress, similar to the Black Caucus, but there to protect the wine industry, “from grape to glass”.

Both Monterey County and Kern County are waiting to see what SLO County will do. Monterey County is poised to protect their water supplies, so don’t think we can take more water from the Salinas River. Kern County, where they are suing the Resnicks who control the Kern County Water Bank, is very interested in the Resnick buy out of SLO county land. That is how Resnick started in Kern County–buying land.

Debbie and Frank, this is bigger than you think. The North County is in a long fight for its survival. If you can’t understand and do the right thing (a moratorium), then you both need to step aside.

Don’t “cut off your nose to spite your face” because you don’t like Gibson and Hill. Accept the fact that they are on the right side of this issue–saving the aquifer.

While I think Arnold and Mechum are enjoying the brief mini-boner of power granted to them by the untimely death of Supervisor Teixeira, I believe it is their own financial interests which motivate their stalling accepting the staff report, and their making it clear they will not support real efforts to deal with the overdraft crisis facing Paso.

Sad that we’re the ones getting the shaft. We paid our taxes, we lived within our means, we conserved, we just don’t have the political power to make them care for us. Sad.

We’re hemorrhaging. My well is not shallow. It’s over 500 feet deep. In our area, most of the wells are well over 400 feet deep, some are 800+ feet deep. Our levels have dropped 50 feet in several years. No one knew to check their levels before the vineyards came in. But they’ve dropped. How many people does it need to affect before you give it critical care.

To do nothing will cause further damage. The facts surrounding my property, is that their are vineyards surrounding my property.

I take offense at the demand for public naming of the owners of wells which have gone dry, especially the demand that the reason for not originally drilling it deeper.

Clearly, this is a set-up to fine cause to blame the victims of the avarice and greed of the bloated, gluttonous wine interests and their puppet politicians and media hacks.

I also believe it is a ruse to draw attention from the reason the wine industry’s why it is they sank such deep wells to begin with. Clearly, they new their growing practices would soon be dust-bowling-out the locals with sustainable land practices well depths to meet the historical well depths.

The wine industry knew their land-use practices would be unsustainable in the arid Paso region. That is why they came loaded for bear, digging their deep wells, and hoarding up water in their “steam ponds.”

Shift blame. Delay. Stall til the landowners either have to sell at a loss to the vineyards, or they have to buy water from PRAAGS.

You’ve hit it right on the head, MaryMalone. This is a classic diversionary tactic to make it appear that something is being done, while the real problem goes unresolved.

If someone has some time on their hands, it would be useful to head down to the County Environmental Health office on Sierra Way. They should have well drilling logs going way back. It would be pretty straightforward to look at well logs from the 80’s and compare water table levels over the years. This could track right through historical drought conditions of the late 80’s and be evaluated right up to now. They should have records of every well drilled in the county.

Why hasn’t one of the supes directed this to be done already? Simple collection of data that would give us a very useful history of the aquifer in the north county.

Reviewing the well records may have actually already been done by the BOS. However, that doesn’t mean the BOS has, or will, release the results of that review if the BOS doesn’t like the results.

Those are public records. Well drilling contractors are required to submit the logs for every well they drill to County Environmental Health. I think you’re right, someone knows the answer to this question and they don’t want that answer brought to light.

The solution isn’t about the wells that have gone dry. It’s to address the overdraft of the basin to stop water levels from plummeting even more and causing MORE wells to go dry. Providing low interest loans to homeowners to drill new wells is a nice idea but it doesn’t do a damn thing about the problem. The problem is the water basin is in overdraft and we’re going bankrupt. Let’s stop writing water checks that the basin can’t cash. Only then will we be working towards a solution.

dry wells are an issue all over the state. wanna golf course, a vineyard, or your trees?