Plan for a balanced groundwater district

October 14, 2013


An apparent consensus reached over the past several months is that a special water district is required to deal with the water crisis in San Luis Obispo’s North County. The day-to-day actions of this district would be defined and administered by a board of directors, and it is essential that the election procedure for this board be designed to provide a fair and equitable representation to all water users in the district.

The boundaries of the affected area are as defined in the urgency ordinance recently adopted by the SLO County Board of Supervisors, namely “… all properties within the unincorporated areas of San Luis Obispo County that overlie the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin except those properties that overlie the Atascadero Sub-Basin and those properties served by County Service Area 16 (Shandon Water District) or the San Miguel Community Services District.”

Lacking a better name, this defined area will hereinafter be called the urgency ordinance sub-basin, and referred to as the sub-basin.

The Paso Robles Agricultural Alliance for Groundwater Solutions has recently petitioned the Local Agency Formation Commission to create a California water district for the sub-basin. The board of directors in PRAAGS proposed district would be elected by voting proportional to land ownership in the sub-basin; this could be accomplished by allowing one vote per acre of land owned, on voting based on assessed land value, or on any such mechanism which favored ownership of large parcels.

Obviously this type of district would vest control of the board, and the district, in a small group of large vineyards and ranches and, while suitable in a totally agricultural context, would disenfranchise most rural district residents who depend on domestic wells. Considering the inequity involved, and as California water code prioritizes domestic use of water, LAFCO would be correct in rejecting PRAAGS’ current application.

A more equitable alternative for the sub-basin is a special water district whose board of directors is balanced by providing an equal number of agricultural and domestic representatives, say two directors for each group. The two agricultural directors could be elected by voting proportional to land ownership in the sub-basin as in the California water district, whereas the two domestic representatives would be elected at-large by all property owners within the sub-basin, one vote per owner, with residency and ownership established by the SLO County assessor. As the two groups of directors would represent divergent and competing interests, one additional director, chosen to provide objectivity and to break ties, would be appointed by the county supervisors from the pool of sub-basin residents.

It is my hope that this simple structure will serve as the basis for development of an effective plan to fairly balance the distribution of existing and future water resources of the sub-basin.

William M. Frost is a software engineer who retired from the aerospace industry in 2007. He is a rural Paso Robles resident.



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Unworkable, How do you define ag or non ag? Many have small hobby farms. It gives too much power to a board of supervisors that may not represent the owners in the basin.

This whole services district is bad for everyone in it. Everyone will lose there water rights without compensation. Everyone will end up paying much more in the long run. This will transfer the issue from the county (who are stakeholders) onto just those in the district. We have had zero studies done on the issue. The district would have to start from square one with figuring out if there is a problem, what caused the problem, how to fix the problem, and than actually fix it. Sounds expensive to me! The residents of Paso Robles and those in ares not in the basin will have zero dollars into the pot even though they pull a whole lot of water from the basin. SLO county in general benefits from the wine industry and should also participate in the fix.

Oh wait, I thought the moratorium was to find solutions to the problem. Guess not. No one is even looking at solutions to the problem or if a problem even exists.

This is but one of many battles of this kind. All over the west, and probably the world, increasing groundwater use and decreasing supply is becoming a problem. Even in “wet” areas like Oregon!

I am a strong proponent of property rights, but I recognize my rights end where yours begin. I have no “right” to drain your well just because I can afford to drill deeper, and can afford the higher overhead of the larger pump(s).

The bottom line is actually quite simple- exponential growth with finite resources is not possible forever. Ag use (and residential use for that matter) cannot grow each year at 3%, 1.5%, or even 0.5%; not forever. It seems we have hit, or are close to, the ceiling for what our area’s resources, specifically water, can produce. We can debate on how these resources should be allocated and used, but we will not escape the math.

With this in mind, anyone who purchases land over a shrinking (for at least 10 years) water table and then expects to plant exponentially more irrigated crops each year is a fool. It is simply not sustainable in the long term. Thus, the only reason for doing this would be short-term gain. The problem with this is that the short-term gain will cause harm to others; it already is.

While I do not believe in using government force on others, it’s pretty clear there’s a lack of ethical behavior on the part of some of the growers. For this reason, I’m taking the measures I can, ethically. I am boycotting Paso wines, and encouraging others to do the same. When it is not profitable to abuse resources, those responsible will stop. Even if a boycott had no effect, I will still have the clean conscience provided by my own efforts to conserve and the fact that my money isn’t going to the unethical growers.

Does anyone really think that the little guy even has a chance with developing a fair plan. Big money will win again as usual.

Fairness is the little guy being allowed to be little and the big guy is allowed to be big. Unfair is the big guy being required to give to the little guy because the little guy is then deprived from learning good work ethics, conservation and self acceptance.

I understand that communism has become more socially acceptable and that gov luv promotes it. Their need to be needed is a constant reminder.

That theory might work better if the resources were not commonly held. If the big land owner only drained the water from directly below his land without water from underneath others’ land flowing in to replace it, your view would have more merit. The problem is that all groundwater in a basin is accessible to anyone who drills into that basin. This means that those with the money and need to drill deeper and pump more can access water that should belong to others with more modest needs and budgets.

For that reason — and the fact that big landowners are no more inclined than small ones to be farsighted when there is profit to be made now — there needs to be more of a voice for the little landowners in the basin than they would have if representation was based solely on acreage owned. I think that this proposal makes sense if there needs to be a separate district set up for that purpose.

Then again, if one is a farmer, one obviously needs more water than a single-family home on acreage. We like to eat, so we need to grow food (or feed for livestock).

While I agree with Jorge’s point (very well said, btw); you also have a valid point, OTOH.

Yet, should a farmer have an equal say to a rancher or homeowner? Some people are going to use more water than others, therefore being “fair” as far as equal portions go, is not going to be possible. This is why a solution needs to be reached.

It is a tricky business, and I hope we as a society can work it out and direct the people who work for us in government on how to proceed.

Discussions are healthy but grocery shopping for food when you are hungry is like discussing a local water well policy amidst a severe drought. Generally, the result is reckless over correction.

Water-rights run with the title of land unless specifically reserved. 1000 acres of overlying land potentially has a greater interest in water than 1 acre of land. Water is what commands the value in property and the taking of water rights, at any level of control, will not happen unless the property owners are neglegent by allowing that to happen. PRAAGS protects this intitlement, your intitlement large or small, as you choose.

The alternative would likely create 1000 acres fenced of viewshed and 1 acre of houses with no property rights, association fees and more gov love.

Entitlement. But, yeah, I agree with you exactly.

The problem, Jorge, as ever, is the Tyranny of the Majority. There are a bunch of 1, 2, 25 acre parcels, and very few 1ooo acre parcels. And people tend to vote in their own self interest, rather than for what is “fair” or “right.”

So, let me get this straight: form more government bureaucracy to manage what the current government bureaucracy cannot (or is not)?

Yes that is the way we are trained to think by the existing government agencies, and most of the sheeple just go along with it.

The people of Los Osos formed a district (LOCSD) to initiate self governamce of their sewer project … each person has to judge for themselves how they feel this worked out. Just to create a district to suppliment what the county is doing may not be a wise choice … Los Osos turned their sewer project back to the county.

Los Osos formed a Community Service District to govern more than the sewer project; lighting, water, wastewater, drainage, parks & rec., garbage.

The sewer project was not “turned over” to the County, it was hijacked by special legislation after the voters elected people and passed a ballot initiative that prevented building a sewer plant in the middle of our lovely little town and returned to the County who had had control of it for the majority of the 30 year sewer saga.

The Los Osos Basin Plan, recently released, by the Interlocutory Stipulated Judgement partners (including the County) suggest a Facilities District with a Water Master, another layer of bureaucracy to manage the water basin. Additionally, it estimates $67 million in water management projects on top of the County’s $173 million (heading over budget) sewer project, plus the $20 million the CSD spent on their attempt, plus the previous $6 million the County spent on early iterations prior to the LOCSD formation.

My point? Do not trust the County to “save” the Paso Robles Basin. It will take hard work and compromise among the users. Beware of litigation, look to the Santa Maria Valley Groundwater litigation cost $20 million in legal and no one is really happy.


The sewer project was not “hijacked,” stop with the history rewrite already! Poor management by the CSD board and GM caused the CSD’s bankruptcy leaving the CSD unable to build a single outhouse let alone a sewer project for 4600 people! Of course it was going back to the County! Don’t you of all people go on about the $20 million and the $6 million for prior sewer projects that never saw the light of day! What has that to do with this Paso Basin topic anyway?

The ISJ was formed in 2004 out of the old sewer project, I mean the prior old sewer project, not the one before that. Water management has to be a group effort as there are three purveyors in town, (two major players). Of course there has to be some agency over the water as the idea is to get ALL basin users to pay for improvements, not make just the CSD or the Golden State ratepayers foot the improvements. And the projects will be spread out over time, some not done at all.Why always with the worst case scenario?

The County is just calling a time out for the Paso Basin people to try to figure out how to handle this, they are not trying to “save the basin” themselves.

I meant to say 4600 households, but you get the drift.

Maybe you didn’t read the comment made by Mitch C.? That’s what I was responding to.

Hey, you’re the one with blind support for anything and everything the current LOCSD and County do.

As to revisionist history, you weren’t here when the ISJ litigation started (in retaliation for the WDR’s and the RWQCB was at the core).

As for who is to blame for the first $6 million spent pursuing a sewer for Los Osos, I wasn’t involved. The $20 million the LOCSD spent, I argued every step of the way not to spend it on a downtown sewer. BTW, all previous projects were supposed to balance the basin, it’s clear you haven’t a clue to what happened in the past.

As for Paso finding a solution by themselves, that’s what I suggest. Keep the County out of it. The County’s involvement in Los Osos water matters didn’t work out too well now did it?

Prior to 2003, the Baywood Water Company charged a flat $20 every other month for as much water as a home could use. No one had a clue there was the threat of seawater intrusion, although the documentation was already available. Additionally, they turned over that water department in disrepair, 30% of the water pumped was being lost via leaks. We (the LOCSD customers) ponied up to a $5 million loan to repair the system. That’s how good the County was at taking care of Los Osos’ water. This is part of why I say beware of the County Paso Robles, be very aware.

Yes, I read what Mitch C wrote, “Los Osos turned their sewer project back to the county.” That was not a full enough explanation of what happened, but in essence it was correct. The people voted for a 218 which opened the door for the County to ACCEPT taking on the project when most danger of another stupid anti-sewer lawsuit was passed. The PEOPLE voted to give it to the COUNTY!

Your statement Julie, “The sewer project was not ‘turned over’ to the County, it was hijacked by special legislation…” is simple not correct at all. I’m sure that you felt that was how it was, but when a rational person looked at the District’s finances, just how did you think the LOCSD was able to build anything? How could anyone trust a CSD that was so careless and clueless? The project was basically thrown away.

I do not blindly support the LOCSD. I thought their letter to the Regional Water Quality Control Board was pointless, and in fact, lost them standing with both the Water Board and the County. You must have seen the letter the Regional Board wrote back to the CSD by now? If not, you can see it on my blog. They were polite, but the CSD really proved nothing about the project harming the water situation. In fact, the idea to truck or pump that water elsewhere would cost the project (read us, the ratepayers!) a lot of money and add a lot of air pollution to the town. But don’t take my word for it, read the letter.

Yes, I absolutely do support the County of NOW and their work on this project.

What has my living here to do with the ISJ? I can read the lawsuit!

I was well aware of what the last project could do to balance the basin. Too bad it didn’t get built. The County had the disadvantage this time around of not owning a water company here in town. It is up to the purveyors to balance the basin, they are the pumpers of it are they not? The last project, being built by one of those purveyors certainly had an advantage. Oh well.

I don’t see what your objection is to the County and their poor stewardship of the water, the County of NOW anyway. What happened in the past was shameful and I think Bud Laurent was not a friend to Los Osos. I can’t recall who my friends say was in charge of the County’s old Pismo project, but having lived here 20 years, they were NOT happy with how that project went at all. This project however, they are happy with. You are equating the bad behavior from years ago and painting the County of now with that black brush. Not fair.