Paso Robles landowners need to protect their water rights

November 30, 2013


Water is California’s gold. Groundwater basins are a battle ground where landowners must protect their water rights from modern-day claim-jumpers who include well-financed entrepreneurs seeking to sell or export our water.

Where does that leave landowners? Unless home owners and landowners take steps to protect their rights under California’s law and constitution, entities attempting to sell or export our groundwater water will take away or limit groundwater rights.

Protect Our Water Rights (POWR) is a newly formed group of overlying landowners who, by virtue of owning their property, have the right to pump and reasonably use water on their land.

POWR has filed an action called “quiet title” in San Luis Obispo County Superior Court. Quiet title is simple. Landowners are asking the court to confirm their right to pump. This doesn’t mean that we will be embroiled in years of litigation.

The governmental entities named in the suit can simply affirm they are not making any claims to limit or take away our water rights. If they take this simple step the case is over. We hope that our elected leaders take this wise and cost effective course of action.

A broader adjudication will be triggered if the governmental entities take the position that they are seeking to take away existing landowner rights. At this point the decision lies with our elected representatives.

A second group, Paso Robles – Water Integrity Network (PR-WIN) has been formed to oppose the recently passed urgency ordinance. Our Supervisors decided that they had the right to vote away the water rights of landowners.

PR-WIN filed a Writ of Mandate, a lawsuit seeking to reverse this unlawful and improper government action. Protection of our water resources is important and must be done in a measured way that protects the rights of everyone. The urgency ordinance was passed by a governmental entity which conveniently exempted itself from the water use limiting provisions of the ordinance. The pain of limited water use falls on landowners and farmers alone.

I’m concerned that the longer range goals of governmental entities are to sell and or export groundwater from the Paso Robles basin. If that is not the case, the entities can file papers in court that affirm that they are not making any claims to take away our groundwater rights.

Water policy in the Paso Robles basin is at a crossroads. We can take a measured, common sense approach. This would involve repealing the urgency ordinance in favor of a more measured science-based set of policies. Alternatively, we can determine everyone’s rights in court and let the judge manage the basin. Which way this goes is up to our elected officials.

Cindy Steinbeck is a fifth generation Paso Robles, farmer working with her parents, brother and son at Steinbeck Vineyards and Steinbeck Vineyards & Winery. She is president of their various businesses and serves as director of marketing, sales and public relations. Cindy created CRASH COURSES in her vineyard, providing an educational experience into wine through the eyes of the farmer.



Are there gov’t. subsidies afforded grape growers?


Who do you think your fooling? How many of your fellow vintners in your area are having well issues? The amazing thing is how much water is needed to make wine, and at the end of the day it is not even that great.


Cindy, I would give you a little respect if you did not own a vineyard. Growing grapes for wine should barely be considered agriculture as all you a re producing is a recreational dug for God’s sake. Sitting there with that smug look on your face with a drug in a bottle just doesn’t work. What have you and your fellow vineyards done to conserve? Have you cut acreage? Have you reduced normal watering schedules? I will laugh at all of you once the wells go dry and the grape industry collapses here for not taking this seriously. The basin can’t take this plain and simple. What part of that don’t you understand? Stopping additional pumping won’t do it by itself. We need to cut usage by the existing stake holders in a major way.


This place is in big time overdraft by ONE industry.

I’m certain we are headed to adjudication because it is only a dream that grape growers will adopt significant (30-70%) conservation/reduction, despite the obfuscation of an eloquent Ms. Steinbeck in her opinion piece.

Cut to the chase: Other than turning water into wine and exporting THAT, I don’t see any “bogeyman” wanting to SELL or EXPORT our water. Such claims are poppycock or obfuscation, or both. The emergency ordinance has NOTHING to do with such Steinbeck nonsense. What is the point of such clouding of the issues? Grape Growers are the leading cause of this, the large acreage ones, and they need to experience the CUTBACKS in their vicious, obviously unsustainable overdraft. Their headlong rush to overdraft required this very tardy action by the BOS. We all wish there were endless groundwater for free market rampant capitalism.

There is no place in intelligent discussion for obfuscation and misinformation such as the sentence “I’m concerned that the longer range goals of governmental entities are to sell and or export groundwater from the Paso Robles basin”. Ms. Steinbeck, you can’t possibly believe that this sort of fearmongering will draw intelligent discerning landowners to your cause.


You are correct, conservation is key and should be practiced by all.

I would urge you to do a little investigating of Paper Water and the Kern Water Bank as well as the billionaire boogie man, he happens to be real and has moved into town right under our noses.

Heck, who wants their rights taken by the BOS acting as a puppet for a water billionaire? She might be on to something here.

See this quote from an LA Times Writers Article a couple years ago… A little history and investigating will get you asking questions if you are intelligent.

“In a new era of buying and selling water, there may be no bigger stockpile than the Kern Water Bank. It was conceived in the mid-1980s by the state Department of Water Resources as a way to store water in the aquifer in wet years so that it can be pumped out in dry years.

Today, though, the massive underground pool is controlled by one corporate farmer, wealthy Los Angeles businessman Stewart Resnick, who owns Paramount Farming Co., the Franklin Mint, and Teleflora, a flowers-by-wire service.”


When a person has to investigate to learn the truth, not many will. This post allows encouragement for citizens to learn and be free of the emotional hype that created this Urgency Ordinance. Get the facts and follow the money to learn the truth or just be ruled by “the commons” as Gibson, Hill and Ray want.


I did, and I don’t get the correlation to SLO. It seams that the BOS action is looking to prevent industrial ag from abusing the basin, not the opposite as implied.

Don’t know what “ruled by the commons” means. Is that some code? How does Gibson, Hill and Ray get labeled but not the rest of the BOS. The emergency ordinance passed 4-0, and the vesting issue passed 5-0.

Resnick money is all over politics on regional, state, and national levels on both sides of the aisle. His money goes where it serves his end best it would seem. Locally, he is a big ag player, reported to support other ag connected politicians like Arnold and Compton.


No, the BOS is attempting to change water law by using the ordinance to flip established rights upside down.

I am assuming that all of you commenting on this are land owners in unincorporated areas with wells, or else you probably would not be commenting. People who fall into this category are higher on the Water Rights ladder than say the incorporated cities who sell water to its residents. In times of drought, they are the ones who are to ration first. Conservation on all of our parts should be practiced, but they are by law impacted first, ie no new houses and trim back on usage.

The ordinance specifically exempted them from any restriction. This flies in the face of the County Map showing the greatest depression right next to the City.

If you don’t officially call out what is yours, meaning your rights, like Jorge Estrada said in his comments above, negligence is no excuse when they are moving to take your rights. Put your flag in the ground while you can.


The Commons is not code, it is water law in every other state except California and Texas.


How do you arrive at the BOS acting as a puppet for Resnick?

Aside from the fact that Resnick is a major land owner in north county, the article and circumstance has no relation to SLO county.

If anything, Resnick is more likely a player in the Stienbeck lawsuit as I’m sure he would be interested in unlimited consumption of water he has access to.

The articles concern was that Resnick’s corporation was selling water to outside users. The prevention of that is one of the possible outcomes from the BOS action not its goal.


So please clarify — are you saying that you have reason to believe that Steve Resnick is actively behind the Emergency Ordinance? Or are you just drawing a comparison between the Kern Water Bank and the Emergency Ordinance? So far as I can see, the Emergency Ordinance in and of itself does not set up a danger for commodification of Paso water, the danger lies in allowing local control systems which are currently being hashed out to fall under the control of outside interests. But I do think that doing nothing, and leaving the using interests to monitor their own use, is not an option. There is just not enough incentive for them to conserve despite whatever lip service they give. If their neighbor can drive them out of business by not conserving, drilling more, and planting more, why would anyone conserve? There is always the hope that the drought will break and refill the basin before any major damage is done to its holding capacity, and that gamble will probably reward those who pump now and can get out if things are looking really bad, leaving folks who can’t get out holding the bag, so to speak.


What I am saying is that there are Steps that need to be taken to get from A to Z. The Ordinance is one of many steps. The BOS is not climbing carefully and they are going to get burned by him.

You are right about incentivizing conservation. When the Ordinance was announced that it may go into affect, the well permits skyrocketed at the county office, that sure didn’t do it. If the County could craft something that would allow zero of the PR Basin water to leave the basin and eliminate the ability for Billionaires, or anyone for that matter, to have leases on “Excess State Water Allocations” yes, they exist even though the water does not. Take the financial incentive of the water leases away and he most likely wouldn’t be here.


Resnick legally purchased shares in the Kern County Water Bank from the state. It is ridiculous to suggest anything like that is even possible in SLO County. Moreover, Resnick is not even in the top 10 of land owners, developers or growers drawing water from the Basin or planting vineyards. This kind of misinformation is intensely counter productive to real dialogue. The water problem in North County has been 20 years in the making.


Legally Purchased? Do you know what happened at the Monterey Agreement Meeting?

SLO County and particularly N. County are in a unique position to be overlying a tremendously large aquifer that provides A LOT of storage capacity for PAPER WATER.

This is going to be a classic story of a sleepy little town not knowing what they have, and it being steam rolled by a bunch of sophisticated suits.

Please do the research, the County’s own studies look to create a bank, joint powers, AB3030 all of these are tools of which he has intimate knowledge.

The size of his holdings here are not terribly important, he is here and this is what he does.

Ask yourself, is there anyway that he is linked to the PRAAGS or ProWater groups or both? How many seats on the Board will he effectively have when those two groups merge together? The answer may surprise you. Do your homework!


Changing the subject with even less factual representations does not help your argument. I responded to Kern County and your BS “boogie man” conspiracy theory. Now readers of your Google search depth of subject knowledge can read my statement of the truth of both. Resnick has followed the guidelines put forth by the BOS and formally, publicly sought an exemption to plant the remaining 300 acres of his East side holdings. Much, much bigger Paso land owners have not followed these rules and have continued planting all year long. Only someone who has an axe to grind with successful, private entrepreneurs could link the interests that Resnick has in Kern County (ie 10’s of thousands of planted citrus and nut acres) with some nefarious plot to steel the water of SLO county to support the 1 winery he owns (with his “massive” 600 acres reliant on the Bank). And neither he nor his stealthy legion of water grabbing ninjas sit on any interested Boards, including PRAGGS. All of the above — all of it — is in the public record. Moreover, formation of a water bank is not linear to someone stealing the County’s water. Banks are created all over the US for a myriad of different private and public policy reasons to establish oversight and prioritization.


This was a sad turn of events lead by a person who ignored the active ongoing and productive community efforts and stood before the BOS and stated that she knew what was best. (Yes she actually said that). It’s also disappointing to know that both Debbie Arnold and hopeful 4th district candidate Lynn Compton too were at the most recent meeting in support of this effort. A leader should not be undermining the greater community efforts to support a small group of individuals.

Of course Ms Stienbeck as a vineyard owner thinks she knows better. That is no surprise.

This is truly a misleading editorial. To suggest it is on the county if this goes to full blown adjudication lasting years and millions of dollars and that the author is not the cause is absurd. That’s like saying, it’s America’s fault when a terrorist causes harm because if we would have just given in then they would not have had to harm anyone. It’s basically terrorist litigation.

For the record there was and is an active community process incorporating a broad cross section of stake holders working to find a local solution to basin management. Ms Stienbeck and her supporters like Debbie Arnold and Lynn Compton have decided they know what’s best and that is going to cost us all.


Maybe complex issues should be ignored and we just blindly follow the BoS decisions.

Why would anyone counter Gibson, Hill, Ray and Mecham? These 4 know it all? Frank said Tuesday something like, all this private property talk, you don’t really own your land. WHATTTT? So we really do not own our land? So Frank game over and you are done with us? Property rights are already gone is that your message? Paso Robles city limits can suck as much water as they like inside the city limits. If we are all going to suffer then why is the city left out?

One good reason, and that is like the “paper water” one more topic the public is too unwilling to look at. The other issue is that today’s “smart” growth loves the water issue to further the idea that you should not live out but inside the city limits in dense housing. Why? Control over you and your life.

When water and land use are in the hands of 5 people and 4 are happy to put the “boot of government” on your throat then it is time to replace as many of this BoS as can be done in as short a time as possible.

Bruce Gibson is running for 2nd district so check out Muril Clift ( to replace him and as you know Caren Ray voted this in so check out Lynn Compton ( to replace her in the 4th district in June. It is time to see that if you cannot vote for their replacements you can support their efforts with $$$$$$.


Hmmm…the Grapes of Wrath perhaps?


As reported on October 15 in CCN, the US SUPREME Coast declined to hear the appeal to the water management plan for Santa Maria, affirming Santa Maria’s rights to pump from the aquifer. Did I get that right? Soooo…with that very local and recent precedent in place, why not instead pull together as a community to establish a management plan for the Paso Robles Water Basin that finds en equitable way to share the water? One that favors no one individually, means that everyone has to be responsible in their water use, has some teeth for abusers and is left in the hands of the people of the Basin and not the courts? Why waste millions of dollars and years, while the groundwater continues to be depleted at an unsustainable rate? Why muddy the waters (excuse the pun) with lawsuits that put people and interests at cross purposes to each other? As it stands now, water is being unsustainably drawn in favor of one industry (and don’t be fooled into thinking it is simply agriculture, unless you are willing to put the “industrial” before the word to truly describe the scale on which the industry operates in much of the basin, with high hundreds of millions of dollars in income annually) and those players could be HEROES if they would just step up to the plate and say, “We are voluntarily doing no further planting or expanding until the management plan is in place.” Wow, would that ever increase their standing in the community, would probably increase their bottom line as local people would feel good again about patronizing their establishments and taking/referring friends and family along. Instead, they are taking a stand of “What’s mine is mine and I have no responsibility to the community to do anything except pump as much as I want to and continue to expand to benefit me and mine.” And yes, there are responsible and community-oriented grape growers in the Basin who are not afraid to go against their bigger brothers in trying to find a solution to this very frightening problem. Kudos to them – they stand to lose as much or more in this dogfight than anyone else, with not only their homes but their livelihoods at risk if this all goes the direction it’s headed, which is DRY!


i slant drill


Hmmmmm. Wasn’t this same piece already published in the Tribune yesterday?

According to the Trib, “All letters and Viewpoints become the property of The Tribune.”

That information aside, what I saw in this piece was, 1) A denial that there was a water problem, 2) Landowners would/could decide what was “reasonable to pump,” 3) A straw dog of “claim-jumpers who include well-financed entrepreneurs seeking to sell or export our water.” 4) A threat of more far-reaching lawsuits which would lead to the same mess that happened in the Santa Maria groundwater basin.

I thought PRO Water Equity and PRAGGS were working well to hammer out the differences in their water approaches without looming litigation……