North County water war headed for court?

September 4, 2013

drought_2398818bWater issues in the North County pitting large agricultural interests against domestic users may eventually devolve into court battles, and that does not bode well for anyone. (Los Angeles Times)

Adjudication of water rights to the 790-square-mile Paso Robles aquifer — in which a judge appoints a so-called “water master” to determine how supplies with be shared — could prove unsatisfying for many users.

The aquifer’s level has dropped more than 70 feet over the past decade, and has been exacerbated by a three-year drought. This is causing private rural wells to go dry, and diminishing land values in large areas over the aquifer.

Such court-mandated division of water resources has happened 22 times in California, including cases on both sides of the Paso Robles supply, in the Santa Maria Valley and Monterey County.

Already there have been rumblings of lawsuits in the wake of a recent decision by San Luis Obispo County supervisors to initiate an emergency ordinance capping new uses of water without showing a 1:1 offset in usage.

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Decades late…. and many dollars short.

Sophocles once said….”There lives a man who arranges the things of today as pleasantly as possible but creeps blindly towards tomorrow.”

oh… the ‘no growthers’ vs. the ‘sustained growthers’ are at it again.

I still remember the idiots voting against state water.

The Idiots who voted against piping and selling paper water from a dry reservoir full of mercury?

As long as unlimited growth is touted by state, county and local governments (and the commercial interests that pay for their being elected) as a good thing, and as long as the the amount of water in a given area remains essentially the same (averaging out over time), and as long as everybody

ignores the elephant (supply vs. demand), this situation will continue and exacerbate. DUH!

Great photo of what Owens Lake looks like today (attached headline photo). Thanks to the Mulholand project which brought Owens water to L.A. (Smart Growth), those who are riparian to the natural flow of water have a new landscape. As for our North County’s Salinas River water, diguised and agreed to be called for the purpose of this debate, The Paso Robles Ground Water Basin, history is repeating itself.

With a reasonable amount of common sense and knowledge of the water volume that drains from the springs directly above Camp San Luis, the need to construct dam in the Salinas River, creating a seven mile lake to support Camp San Luis is utter nonsense. The obvious would have been The City of San Luis Obispo taking advantage of this war time budget/excuse to get a big straw into the Salinas River, as did San Miguel in getting a sewer system for their support to Camp Roberts. Just think about it, at that time San Luis Obispo had no Lopez water, no Whale Rock water and no State water, they just had Reservior Canyon and likely more than one water well.

Today, the feud is specific to the agreed terminology, The Paso Robles Ground Water Basin, while San Luis Obispo continues to suck the Salinas River dry. The City of San Luis Obispo has been utilizing an application which requires a dam that has not been fully constructed and until so, their application can never be perfected. There are issues, the dam was build over a nine month period in the early forties which resulted in the evacuation of low lying Atascadero due to the unexpected heavy rain year. In addition, today we have earthquake engineering requirements that did not exist when this stackable dam was constructed.

North County water does need to be adjudicated but the water hole (basin) is a not the issue, it’s the Salinas River and all who have their straw in it.


For those who have not follwed previous CCN coverage on this issue, please see the article, Meecham views water basin with new eyes, August 20th by Dan Blackurn. Attached is the County Board of Supervisors Resolution No. 2005-342 that created this, in my opinion, a myoptic view of the Salinas River tiltled, “The Paso Robles Groundwater Basin Agreement.”

Too much time and tax dollars can be wasted on the wrong dispute, certainly a strategy that is nothing new. The key is to properly pick the battle.

Look to Los Osos for a recent adjudication process. The Draft Basin Management Plan was just released last week. This process took nearly 6 years to complete and is not over yet.

Once accepted by the Court, a Water Master will be in place and all three water companies( CSD, Golden State and S & T Mutual)will have to agree to any and all decisions by the Water Master hencefore and forever.

Adjudication of water rights is not for those with short attention spans. However, for the individual residential water rights holder, it is the best chance they have at getting their rights represented.

Look, ideally we would have had, currently and over the years, county supervisors who would have seen the handwriting on the wall and limited the users in the Paso GW basin to numbers which would ascertain the stability and sustainability of the water use in that basin.

It was the county supervisors’ responsibility and they had/have the power to do it, but preferred to allow unlimited growth in an arid area with very limited native water resources.

The county supervisors should have seen to the GW Basin’s sustainable future, but they didn’t.

We can easily see by the circle-jerk the current county BOS has been offering us as answers to the massive Paso GW bain problem that the current county BOS is not going to do much else but a series of circkle-jerk meetings and measures.

The next best hope is with an adjudication and a solid water master. Komar has retired, I believe, and that is unfortunate. Let us hope, if it goes to adjudication, that they can find someone at least as good as Komar.

The heavy growth in Los Osos during the late 70’s and 80’s totally failed to look at the seawater

intrusion. Reading the Draft Basin Plan you can see that the seawater is all the way to the library/park area.

The County knew, but failed to take action out of greed. All those building fees looked good.

Can the basin be saved? Time will tell.

There are positives and negatives involved in adjudication of water rights.

The only case with which I am familiar is the Santa Maria GW Basin adjudication. I don’t have a vested in the case.

In the end, the best thing that happened to the water-rights mess was the adjudication. I think a large part of that was due to the judge who oversaw the case, Judge Komar.

In a case like settling water rights, no one is going to get everything they want. Everyone is going to think they were short-changed. However, that is the nature of the adjudication beast.

The way things look like they are settling out now (without adjudication), it looks like the big-money interests are, in the end, going to control what happens. IMO, the best hope for a fair shake for the long-time Paso rural homeowners (who are the heart and soul of rural north county) is for the case to go to adjudication.