Paso Robles water rights group files amended complaint

August 6, 2014
Cindy Steinbeck

Cindy Steinbeck

OPINION By Protect Our Water Rights

Concerns over sweeping changes to private property rights has brought tremendous support from the rural community for the Protect Our Water Rights (POWR) Quiet Title Action. The group filed an amended complaint July 31 in Superior Court of Santa Clara County, adding over 100 members and 7,000 acres. The current group stands at 250 landowner members and 12,800 acres.

Quiet Title is not a lawsuit, it is a request to the courts to affirm the right, already afforded by California law, to reasonable and beneficial use of the water under a landowner’s property. The courts will handle the claim, which has become a litigation of rights because those who sell water have claimed a prescriptive right to the water. The courts will adjudicate the basin, which simply means, make a judgment.

Adjudication is healthy for basins because true and accurate accounting of the water in the basin will be a direct result of the litigation.

Cindy Steinbeck, a founding member of POWR, is a fifth generation family farmer and owner of Steinbeck Vineyards in Paso Robles. She states, “Our group is not seeking anything over and above affirmation of our current rights under California Law. Our rights are under assault. If we cannot use the water then our land has no value. Our rural lifestyle and our community is at risk.”

About POWR: Protect Our Water Rights ( is a diverse group of landowners, concerned about property rights and water rights. POWR believes that standing strong to protect our rights will also serve to protect our precious groundwater. POWR formed very quickly after the urgency ordinance was passed by the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors. The group is made up of landowners both small and large.

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some basic questions.

1) how much water is there in ‘the basin’?

2) If a property owner drills a well into a larger underground ‘lake’, doesn’t the water get sucked to where the pumps are running?

3) If you own property and your ‘well doesn’t’ come up with water, does that mean there is more than one ‘lake’?

4) If property owners pump furiously, pump it all up to water their crops, and all the wells go dry. what happens?

5) Who knows how much water is ‘in this underground lake’? Basin?

6) If you water crops will some of the water recharge back down into the underground water supply?

Thanks who every has the answers to these questions.

Answers to your questions:

1. No one knows for sure. Estimates range from as high as 31 million acre feet. We extract about 90,000 acre feet per year. The Basin recharges a little less than that when averaged over the last decade or so.

2. In some areas, yes. In others it’s site specific.

3. It could or could not. Our Basin is not one big chamber such as a swimming pool. A better description would be looking for natural gas in Texas. There is a lot of it but it’s all over the place in various quantities and locations and at different depths.The same applies to the 31 million acre feet mentioned above.

4. We are all out of luck. Our land values plummet; the economy tanks and we are broke.

5. Again, know one knows for sure. Most studies say our Basin is one of the largest in the Western States.

6. One would have to water in excess of what the crop needs to have any hope of having it trickle down to the aquifer. That said, it’s a practical impossibility. It would be irresponsible to allow such runoff to occur, however one can drive around the cities and see water running down the streets from time to time. There is less of this now because more people know we are in a drought.

Thank you for your answers to my questions. You helped me understand the issue, all though I don’t live in the area , I still care. I hope it can be ‘worked out’, with out more unpleasantness, my experience is that coming together to solve ‘problems’ works out better than just disagreeing.

how do you know the 31 million figure?

It comes from the 205 Fugro Study that was prepared at the request of the County. It can be accessed from the County website, The 31 million acre feet is the theoretical capacity of the basin. It is not known if all of it is accessible or if the quality of the water is acceptable.

Hummm. well that isn’t real helpful to those who are wanting to do endless pumping and those concerned about over drawing in…..I hope someone , somehow, can get a more definitive study.

This study has been recently.There are other studies that have been conducted and all say pretty much the same. We have enough studies to know we extract pretty close to what is recharged on average annually.In drought years we are on the edge. A local agency that has powers to limit the pumping of everyone in such times and work on sources of supply to recharge the basin in critical areas is what is needed. This is coming in the Pavley-Dickinson Bill. A lot of folks are looking for solutions and some stick their head in the sand and say everything will be okay.

Will it be a water district that takes up these powers or will the Flood Control District be the one? Those are the only two choices for the North County. One will have people on it’s board who live and own land in the Basin. The other is controlled by three South County Supervisors who will always outvote our two.

Okay, I think I get it!

The drought has thrown the who ‘normal’ out of balance.

The property owners (new? or old?) are planting more grapes for instance no matter the amount of water available.

That’s the problem.

someone (I guess the agencies) must say stop planting, pumping X amount out of the ground until we have enough rain to recharge the basin?

am I close?

For the first time in history land use is tied to groundwater sustainability in the Pavley-Dickinson bill. It forces agencies such as a water district or Flood Control District to align its policies with local planning agencies. This is not a local conspiracy to stop growth. This is a state wide concept. If the rains return and the basin is recharged, that would set the stage for growth which any area needs. If not we can’t continue to expand. Not a difficult concept. This comes into conflict with those that say they have the right to do whatever they want with their land and no one can tell them they can or cannot pump as much water as they feel they are entitled to.

Sheesh people, no one owns the water under their land. They have the right to extract it as long as they can get to it. If there isn’t any, you are out of luck. Drill deeper or buy land where the water is. The State grants to all the right to access it. It is held in the public trust.

All landowners in the North County must come to grips with the fact that the State will enact laws this year to regulate groundwater for the first time in its history. This bill, known as Pavley-Dickinson mandates that agencies that control groundwater basins like Paso must enact a plan so that the basin is sustainable. That leaves us with two options; form a water district or continue to allow the County Flood Control District to control our water. If a district is not formed, the three South County Supervisors have ultimate control over the Paso Basin. Mecham and Arnold are powerless to stop anything the three want to do.Water can be exported out of the Basin to any other place in the County over their objections.No one I know wants to export water out of the County. Exporting water out of the Paso Basin is a far bigger threat.

Basin management through adjudication leaves one judge to decide our fate who then appoints a water master to tell us how much water everyone gets. For you conspiracy theorists out there, is it easier to influence one judge or water czar or a nine person person board elected by property owners and register voters who live over the Basin?

For you Quiet Title folks out there I say go for it. Spend your millions in attorney fees. While your writing checks for the next ten years, the rest of us will get busy to come together to create realistic solutions to manage our groundwater. You don’t think your judge in San Jose is not looking at Pavley-Dickinson? Guess again. And how is it going so far? You are coming up on your one year anniversary with not much to show for it. A change of venue and not much more. And you continue to say you are not suing anyone. It’s propaganda at worst and word parsing in the least. You will force me into your lawsuit where I and every other property owner in the Basin will have to defend ourselves. For this I say thank you. Thank you for not sitting down with your fellow property owners and coming up with reasonable solutions.

DonKey’s “reasonable solution” is turn turn over the entire resources of the basin to the largest users.

Next time, engage brain before putting keyboard in gear!

I am amazed at the number of people who line up at the trough of slop that Cindy Steinbeck is cooking up! Playing 6 degrees of separation with all of the people involved in farming and water law based on a bunch of newspaper and internet articles.

Meanwhile,while you are distracted by the invisible boogie man pumping all of our water to Kern County, she is suing for affirmation to keep pouring our valuable resource on more and more acres of grapes and is not doing a damn thing to manage the resource. (Adjudication has worked great in Santa Maria.) So I ask you folks at the trough, who is going to manage the resource? I don’t see anyone stepping up. I don’t see growers banding together to manage the resource. What I see is more vineyards going in at an alarming rate.

By the way, there are a hell of lot bigger vineyard operators in this county than Resnick is currently but we don’t hear a word about them using water.

If you think this water issue is tedious, just wait until the vineyards go dry and people start screaming for government bailouts to cover their losses. After all, there is no risk in farming!

Tell it to the judge. And I assure you there will be one. The water district is about controlling, not managing, resources.

You have made an assertion that is not supported by facts. Please explain precisely how creating a water district for the North County turns over the resources of the Basin to the largest users. Simply, it does not. Big landowners only get two of the nine seats on the board. Pavley-Dickinson mandates extraction limits if basins are not not in balance. If no district is formed, the County Flood Control District will have the same powers. I say let”s have a district that will have more small landowners and registered voters on its board of directors than leaving our fate in the hands of five Supervisors; three of which don’t represent us.

Pavley-Dickinson is not the law yet. And what it will do is enable continued overdraft of the basin for short term, and by short term I mean a few more decades, profit at the sacrifice of sustainability. Rural residents whose wells fail will be offered the opportunity to buy “district” water. Doesn’t anybody get nervous when Big Ag teams up with Agenda 21? Their common goal is to reduce water use for their own agenda and tell you you can’t have a lawn or garden in the interest of the “public” good. Here come ‘da judge!

With all due respect, Pavely-Dickinson does the opposite. It gives local agencies powers to limit extractions if well owners take out more water than goes in. It encourages local agencies to manage their water. Pavley-Dickinson will be passed by the legislature by the end of August and will become law in January 2015.

Your comment that Big Ag teams up with Agenda 21 has no factual basis. A water district or the current Flood Control District will have the powers under Pavley-Dickinson to limit the pumping of everyone if the basin uses more than it takes in. This includes all agricultural pumpers in the Basin.

The Basin Advisory Committee has been formed that will advise the public on how the district is to be managed. Their meetings are open to the public. The Committee is made up of public and private citizens who represent all the different factions within the Basin. I urge you to attend them so you can get a more balanced perspective of how the Basin is to be manged. Let’s work together to solve problems rather than make ungrounded inflammatory statements.

The government does NOT get to decide! Property rights are fundamental American rights granted to all Americans by the Constitution and Bill of Rights! Letting the government have control of everything is a fundamental problem with the direction and path that this Administration has been leading the willing down. Freedom is in serious jeopardy when we let the government control everything in our lives.

John Steinbeck just rolled over in his grave.