Basin adjudication does not solve our groundwater problems

November 3, 2014


Laurie Gage’s fact-based analysis which exposed the fallacy that adjudicated basins are better managed obviously struck a nerve with the litigants who have filed the quiet title lawsuit. While they are oblivious to the fact that many believe they possess a selfish sense of entitlement by being more concerned about their rights than their sense of community, they repeatedly try to convince us of all the grand things a judge will do for the Paso Robles Basin.

As cover for their unpopular approach, they accuse me, my fellow PRAAGS board members and PRO Water Equity of creating clandestine schemes to sell water for a profit. This is baseless conspiracy theory nonsense, which is not supported by any facts or proof.

I am as concerned as anyone about protecting my water rights and no one I know wants to lose them. However, the legal landscape for well pumping has changed almost overnight. This comes with the enactment of a new State law called the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, also known as Pavley-Dickinson. This has caught the litigants completely off guard as it was not even in draft form when their lawsuit was filed in 2013. If that weren’t enough, two recent court rulings – one in Siskiyou County and the other in the Russian River Watershed – could become the “canaries in the coal mine” for even more dramatic changes to State water law.

In Jan. 2015, Pavley-Dickinson requires us to begin managing our basin so that it is sustainable. Waiting years for a court to decide is therefore no longer an option. Another stubborn fact is that under the new law, appropriators and overliers are required to cooperate with each other to manage the basin’s groundwater. If we don’t, the new laws allow the State to intervene and do it for us, well before any court would be able to act. Why then do the litigants have to use the courts to force the cities and service districts to do something they must do anyway under these new laws?

Contrary to what some believe, adjudication does not guarantee a successful outcome. Every time we decide to use the courts, we want justice for us, not the other guy, but it doesn’t always work that way. To get their justice, the litigants must prove that the right to their water has been hindered by the appropriators (the cities, service districts and the County). If the appropriators can prove they were pumping during times when the wells in the basin were pumping more than was being recharged annually over time, they win. The long awaited 300 page Paso Basin Groundwater Model Update Draft Report could be another body blow to the litigant’s case. It states that we have been pumping almost 2,500 acre feet more per year out of the basin on average than what is put back in since 1981.

One thing adjudication does do is force the rest of us into their lawsuit whether we like it or not. You will be forced to retain your own lawyer and pay them handsomely to defend yourself. Further, adjudication does nothing to bring in additional sources of water as the court only rules on who gets how much water.

Don’t think for a minute that the court will not be looking closely at these new laws before it rules. Once we demonstrate compliance with Pavley-Dickinson, would not they use our local plan as the template for its decision? After all is said and done, they will have incurred millions in lawyer fees (as will the rest of us), the defendants will have spent millions of our tax dollars and we will wind up in about the same place a decade or more from now. What then will the litigants have won?

Lastly, the litigants have pitted neighbor against neighbor and that is just plain wrong. It’s time to stop these silly conspiracy accusations. To anyone who is unsure about any schemes to sell our water, my colleagues and I are more than willing to meet at any time to openly and honestly explain why this cannot and should not happen. In the meantime, I’m hopeful the other 90 plus percent of the landowners will come together and work on local solutions to manage our basin.

Along with his wife, Robert Brown owns and operates the Pretty Penny Vineyard east of Paso Robles.


Nobody is saying “a judge will do grand things for the water basin”. But the issue will be acknowledged and adjudicated. Mr. Brown is an overdraft denier. I think even Debbie has given that up. “A couple good years” isn’t going to do poop in the face of “final harvest” development, vineyards or tract housing.


His article is also running on the Paso Robles Press. They don’t allow commenters to hide behind pseudo names. For all who have opposing views why don’t you identify yourselves as he said he and others would like have an adult conversation. Sounds like a reasonable offer.


“You will be forced to retain your own lawyer and pay them handsomely to defend yourself?” Get real Bob! Quiet title is nothing more than a legal NO TRASPASING sign attached to one’s deed. How would you find it necessary to hire an attorney to defend yourself because a neighbor has put up NO TRASPASING signs on their property? Could it be that you are pumping so much water in your Pretty Penny vineyard that your cone of depression is affecting your neighbors well? Please, be honest or be quiet!


I would like to know where you plan on getting outside water, as far as I know there isn’t any water as there is too many wanting state water. I want to know had much it is going to cost the taxpayer.


Bob isn’t it embarrassing to you that you are being used as a tool to lie on behalf of the Water Brokers guiding you at PRAGGS & PWE?

Jorge Estrada

Long before the Winery Winers and the Basin Basis for Water Wars, San Luis Obispo has been perfecting their existing use of North County Water. The cities are growning houses while the public out-cry is labeling farmers bad for farming. Adjutication is absolutely needed for land owners to protect what is theirs.

If the parties to Corporate Housing (Cityhood) were to make this a decision by vote, that would be death to our rural county. The law of the land is our only protection and if the largest mass of voters (Cityhoods) continue to take by vote, there will be no law of the land.

Agree or disagree, history is being repeated.


Another wordy article from a self-interested vineyard-owning over-pumper. A wordy response (my unfortunate specialty) is called for.

Adjudication happens to be all ABOUT sustainability of yield; that’s the first goal of the Watermaster generally appointed over adjudicated basins. Rights are lost as a result of the unsustainable pumping, and if done right, historic rights are preserved though diminished to achieve sustainable yields.

Further, it isn’t “just wrong” to pit water users against each other in a suit. When vineyard greed CREATES the problem, you are by definition pitting other more moderate and historic users against you new interloper/over-pumpers.

Further, water rights litigation is CHEAP considering the resulting sustainable basin that it generally brings.

Despite your long-winded ramblings, adjudication has often resulted in sustainability, often by a pumping tax which generates revenue to fund alternative sources. I happen to have been down this road before, though. we sold our El Pomar holdings so we don’t get to be part of the current fun, but distant family owning over the basin is a part of it, I sound their well for them with my device, and we who sold are watching this winery-induced catastrophe with interest. To us, you winery Johnny-come-latelies are merely the recent iteration of a nearby sugar beet 1960’s over-pumper that destroyed grand-dad’s 80 foot well.

Adjudication may have been my SECOND choice after sensible self-management (you wineries failed), however you winery people pushed this mess upon all owners, showed ZERO self-restraint, so hold your peace since you are the proximate cause of the whole mess, way past any uses of the cities!


No mention of Pavley-Dickinson and what we are now required to do. This law will not allow years to go by waiting on a judge. No comment about bringing those into the lawsuit that don’t want to be in it. Millions will be spent paying off lawyers. Think about how all that money could be put to use on projects to bring in water.

You were able to sell your property for a lot more because of the vineyards and wineries around you than if you lived in Parkfield. Yes, vineyards use a lot of water and many are trying to work with their neighbors to come up with reasonable solutions. Running to the courts is not the first option for most.

Jorge Estrada

Just to save your breath, I am not a vinyard farmer, I use very little water at home and my fractional acre of of land in orchard (on drip), pumps from a 20 foot depth. I do not export water for money, although I have hauled, from one of my wells, 700 gallons of water to a friend, to get him through December.

I not about sucking water for farming money but I will defend the rights of others to do so on their land. I am very grateful to be in this country and not a country where there are so many political intitlements that only the sluggard class benefits.


Yeah, we don’t want the justice system messing up the affairs of our political insiders gang that will be run by outsiders. Cronyism and power-brokers are the way to go. Screw property rights!

People like Gage and Brown make me sick.


Thank you, Robert for a well thought out piece. You don’t have to look far for proof of the points you make. The Santa Maria basin is now adjudicated after some members of the basin sued and tied us all up in decades of legal fees.

Despite strict rules in 2008 as to who gets how much water, the Nipomo Mesa continues to pump 12,000 acre feet with only a 4,500-6,000 acre foot sustainable yield and is not complying with the requirement to bring in 3,500 acre feet in a reasonable time frame. The basin has been in overdraft since the 1960s and still the county continues to approve housing developments with no sustainable yield and the water companies continue to approve new water hook ups while every year adding to the basin’s further depletion by 2-3 times the safe yield.

The basin is now pumped so low that the water cannot flow up out of the Nipomo Mesa basin into the Five Cities basin. That means we can’t use our wells and are at risk of saltwater intrusion.

Five Cities folks at least have backup from Lopez, but not enough. At some point, if this continues we will get saltwater intrusion and the Mesa will follow. Bad for the 40,000 Five Cities residents, but worse yet for the Mesa with 24,000 people, a lot of agriculture and no alternate supply.

The board of supervisors is failing all of us by continuing to approve development, leaving both populations – 69,000 people, a quarter of the County’s population – at serious risk.

Adjudication hasn’t fixed it. Money spent litigating would have been better spent finding ways to ensure a safe yield and dependable supply. Now it’s up to us to work together to insist that we have a reliable water supply, starting with insisting that our elected representatives take action. I hope that the north county will learn from our experience.

mr. bigg

The Steinbecks are large vineyard owners and developers of many vineyards, plus winery owners and partners in wineries also. They want unlimited pumping fir themselves. How does that benefit other rural landowners? At least PRAAGS folks are looking to import Naci and Paso city recycled water in an attempt to balance the basin. That would help everyone, not just the lawsuit gang.

A District will be needed to build any new infrastructure such as pipelines which mean bond sales to finance it. A judge will not sell bonds but will cut everyone back. Bob is spot on with his comments.


Mr. Bigg, where did you get the idea that Naci and Paso city recycled water is going to solve water problems in the county. They will help the basin only when they are implemented and by keeping Paso from using so much well water. If you think that grape growers will be able to import this water, other than in an emergency situation, then you are dreaming. Paso hasn’t built or paid for its water treatment plant to process Naci water, and the piping hasn’t been laid for recycled water. The taxpayers of Paso will pay for this purple piping, and they won’t be paying for it so recycled water can go to county grape growers–the major cause of our continuing ground water shortage.


If all the Urban Water Users in the Five Cities and Nipomo were paying attention, they would demand more measurement, management, and conservation on the Mesa. However, if they elect Lynn Compton, that is very unlikely to happen.