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?





need water

Mrs. Arnold has been ‘studying’ this, and ‘concerned’ about this since May 7th. That’s what her form emails keep telling us. She’s been ‘researching’ ways to help the dry well people, but, alas has come up with nothing. So, instead of doing anything to help MORE people from going dry, she’s falling back on the notion that she because the ordinances don’t directly pour water into dry tanks, she’ll do nothing. Tanks but no tanks. Folks in the North County are getting pretty tired of her already.


Why should everyone else in SLO County BAIL OUT the over-users of the groundwater basin by using up the Flood Control District’s reserves?

need water

Mrs. Arnold is the only one banging this drum. Sadly, the ones that are paying, and will continue to pay, are the rural landowners trying to save their homes.


I might humbly suggest a 2-point approach:

o Stop watering / reduce watering while in a drought enough to allow the aquifers to replenish.

o Keep the water we buy from the state, and use that. (Sell whatever is left over).

Not a lot of bullet points, but I’m not a bureaucrat and am only interested in actually solving problems, rather than extending them to try and personally profit from them.


I forgot to add the “I DRINK YOUR MILKSHAKE!” line from There Will Be Blood (it’s oil, but works for water aquifers, too).


“stop watering” what? Unless that includes irrigation of the vineyards, that will not save enough water to make a dent in the overdraft.

Long run, we must elect politicians who are willing to deal with water problems before they become crises, because this Paso GW crisis is small on the order of other water crises that can occur in the future.

This is a crisis, and it was created by the vineyard owners and their political hacks who back them. The irrigation to the vineyards must stop, and the political hacks in office must be replaced.


“Opinion” indeed !

Long winded and poorly written, it reads more like an ad hoc laundry list.; but typical for the kind of ‘word salad’ spielers so attractive to today’s reactionary intelligentsia.


Yes, and you’ve detailed point-by-point very well! Keep patting yourself on the back. You added nothing.


This “crisis” of overdraft, dry wells, and draining aquifer did not start yesterday, or even last year.

This was years of ignorance, arrogance, and deliberately looking the other way in the making.

Now, Ms. Arnold was not directly involved in those past actions, inactions, and decisions. But her proposals here would only further adversely impact those already negatively affected.

The records exist. A date certain for when inordinate numbers of dry wells appeared can be determined..

A retroactive ‘superfund’ levied on all new wells dug from that date covering the entire aquifer ( not just ‘dry’ spots ) should be created to pay for future water sources and to compensate those who have lost property values.


MUCH, much more helpful! Thank you for clearing it up for me.

need water

How long does Ms. Arnold think it will take staff to figure some of this out? There is NO way to analyze some/most of this data.

Does she ask how it will affect the county if many more homeowners walk or default on their mortgages. How about trying to get a fair price for a home when drilling rigs are next door?


Should the alternative be to keep doing nothing? Why start something if it might take too long? I’d love to hear alternates suggested before I just write this opinion piece off, based on comments.


I don’t thin, it is “How long does Ms. Arnold think it will take…” but “How long does Ms. Arnold HOPE it will take….”

The answer is….as long as suits her political backers.


My honest opinion is her questions fit into one of two categories:

1. She doesn’t understand the problem well enough to ask pertinent questions.

2. It’s a stall tactic in order to buy more time for the vineyards to get their new wells in and their grapes planted.

I hope I’m wrong, but not so sure.

tapped out

Debbie, you have it completely backwards. If the basin wasn’t in decline–actually OVERDRAFT–people’s wells would not be running dry. An Urgency Ordinance is to help the BASIN! If the Board would have done this long ago, the basin would not be in crisis and wells would not be running dry! People with dry wells need help, but that is a different problem to solve. You are getting distracted from the elephant in the room–the Basin is in immediate need of help. You have many studies, lots of data. Pull your head out of the dry well and DO SOMETHING!

You say you don’t want to damage property values. Rural residents have already taken a hit on property values. Do you think anyone wants to buy a house in an area where the water is uncertain? I certainly wouldn’t, and I own one.

If conservation worked, we wouldn’t have a declining basin. Wake up! Start doing your job! Are you aware that lots of people are talking “recall” for both you and Mecham?


Ms. Arnold, you were elected to represent the first District. It’s time you quit stalling and do your job as the county has provided you with ample information proving that the aquifer is in overdraft and will not recover on it’s own no mater how much rain we get. The longer you stall, the more wells your friends get to drill and the faster the aquifer will decline equaling even more dry wells. Be advised that people are already starting to talk about a Recall Petition due to your failure to represent your district.


George Bush/Sarah Palin School of Obfuscation. Needs a title like, “Water for All” or “Operation Paso Liberty”. (“Compassionate Conservation”?) Why not start with no new planting? Then, limit winery irrigation until it rains again.

need water

Let them drink wine should be her new slogan.Title suggestions: NWP No water for the Peasants.

Splurge our basin. Debbie for the rich winegrowers.

Doesn’t she read our comments? Debbie, please support us, sadly we don’t have the rich deep pockets of your supporters. You say you’re not for big grape. Dana Merrill says you are. (KVEC Friday)


“Then, limit winery irrigation until it rains again”?!?

With the piddly amount of precipitation Paso gets, the depth and rapidity of the drop of the GW basin, and the length of time it takes to replenish to an average level of sustainability, it will take stopping vineyard irrigation, period.

And that is just a start.

New high-density residential developments have to be put on hold until the GW basin is stabilized.

Look at the arid landscape in Paso. That type of land was never meant to sustain high-density housing and massive irrigated vineyards and landscapes.

The homes on acreage, without lawns, and only a horse or two…THAT is sustainable for Paso.

need water

It’s a pathetic attempt to buy time: hoping for monsoon rains, hoping Gov. Brown appoints someone who’ll let DA vote for tiny portions of the ordinance, hoping the affected homeowners walk and let her big grape cronies buy the properties for a pittance.

I heard her read this letter at the BOS meeting. It sounded just like Mike Brown speaking. Does she let him do all her thinking for her?