Gibson plants 500 trees while calling for ag moratorium
October 31, 2013
By KAREN VELIE and JOSH FRIEDMAN
San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Bruce Gibson planted 500 new citrus trees on his rural Cayucos property several months ago while pushing to impose tough water conservation measures on agriculturalists in the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin.
Neighbors in rural Cayucos say that while they have been struggling to water their orchards because of drought conditions, District 2 Supervisor Bruce Gibson planted an additional 500 citrus trees on his Cottontail Creek Road ranch.
Gibson, who recently announced that he is running for a third term, placed the ranch on the market in June after his wife, San Luis Obispo physician Dr. Grace Crittenden, filed for divorce. Last November, the supervisor admitted publicly to having a long-term affair with his administrative assistant Cherie Aispuro.
“Several of my neighbors don’t have enough water for their trees,” said a neighbor who asked not to be identified because of Gibson’s position. “The new trees appear to be about two to six months old.”
Gibson’s Cottontail Creek Road property includes 800 mature, 250 mid-size and 500 newly planted citrus trees for an asking price of $2,595,000, according to the property listing.
With approximately 15 acres of citrus, Gibson’s ranch would need about 30 acre feet of water a year in addition to rainfall. Irrigation experts from University of California Cooperative Extension and Cal Poly, as well as neighbors of Gibson, said an acre of citrus trees in the Cayucos area requires about two acre feet of irrigation water per year.
Six years ago, Gibson pulled 11 acres of citrus trees and reduced his orchards from 20 acres to nine acres. Several years ago, he planted two additional acres, and a few months ago he planted about four acres of citrus trees, increasing his crop to about 15 acres, according to his property listing and several neighbors.
Gibson did not respond to questions about his water usage.
His ranch has two wells — one onsite and one on a neighboring property owned by the Whale Rock Reservoir, according to the listing and the reservoir office.
Upon the creation of Whale Rock Reservoir in the 1960s, four neighboring properties with wells that would be influenced by the water table received specific water rights, Whale Rock Reservoir Supervisor Noah Evans said.
Gibson’s offsite well is allotted 15 acre feet of pumping a year. The well is metered and monitored by Whale Rock staff.
The household well on Gibson’s property is not metered. It is also unclear whether the permit for the household well places any restrictions on the owner’s ability to pump water.
Following a CalCoastNews request, San Luis Obispo County Environmental Health Services staff could not locate the permit for Gibson’s household well in its database. But, Environmental Health supervisor Richard Lichtenfels said he would try to provide a physical copy of the well permit in the future.
Earlier this month, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors extended its urgency ordinance that restricts water use in the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin. The basin spans most of Northern San Luis Obispo County east of Highway 101 and includes rural Atascadero, Templeton and Paso Robles.
The ordinance, which lasts until 2015, prohibits new development in the Paso Robles basin that uses more water than it saves.
Gibson led the effort to adopt the ordinance and initially called for water usage restrictions twice as steep as what the board adopted. He said the water moratorium was necessary to stabilize the basin.
Opponents of the moratorium argued that their property values would plummet due to the ordinance prohibiting them from planting on their undeveloped properties.
The supervisors have not restricted water usage for additional areas of the county impacted by the drought and the lowest year to date rainfall in recorded history.