Proposed groundwater regulations will affect all residents

February 22, 2015

Neighborhood farmOPINION By LARRY and SUSAN MCGOURTY

If you live in a city in San Luis Obispo County or live in the rural county and grow fruits and vegetables for family and friends and think the permanent water offsets and groundwater basin regulation proposals coming before the Board of Supervisors is not your fight, think again. If implemented county-wide as proposed, it will limit your food choices and devastate agriculture as we know it in San Luis Obispo County.

Small family farms are not large water users or wasters. Through farmer markets, farm to table programs, and sales to local supermarkets, they are a vital resource to our county by growing safe, fresh, and high quality food for the residents of our urban communities. In a time of civil unrest overseas and labor disputes threatening the overseas food supply chain, the Board of Supervisors should be doing all it can to encourage more local food production.
The proposed water offset program does exactly the opposite.

If you want to discourage something, first step is to regulate it. The offset regulation freezes ag lands in farmable areas -i.e. the groundwater basins of our county, to what exists now. It will result in no more additional farmland being put into production. If a farmer wants to farm new land he or she must first purchase a water offset from an existing farmer who in turn will then have to fallow their productive land and take it out of production permanently. This is an insane policy, wasteful of a precious resource.

Because of the prohibition of putting additional ag land into production and a limited number of offsets available, competition will be fierce with an inevitable rise in offset costs.

The cost of purchasing an offset will be prohibitive to a small start-up produce farmer and hinder an established farmer who needs to rotate his crops to match seasonal and public demand. Only the large vineyards with deep pockets will able to purchase offsets, further increasing the large irrigated vineyard monoculture, the cause of most of our local water problems to begin with.

The Board of Supervisors claim they must do the offset program to be complaint with the Pavley-Dickenson Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). Fine, we all agree that encouraging sustainable practices is a good thing and is in everyone’s best interest, but it can be done in a way compliant with SGMA and not devastate local agriculture. If you live in a city and use a farm to table program or shop at farmers markets, contact your supervisor and ask they reconsider this poorly thought out approach and take more time to study the proposal to insure it does not hurt both the small family farms who feed our county and the families they help feed.

Even rural residents of the county with non-commercial home gardens are not exempt from regulation. Under these proposals you will be paying the county a fee for the privilege of pumping water to grow your own food. Residential users who extract less than 3 percent of the total groundwater are not the cause of local groundwater problems and don’t need heavy handed regulation.

Contact your supervisor and ask that he or she adopts in any new local regulation, the Pavley Dickenson exclusion for di minimis users, that is water users who extract less than of two acre feet of water per year for domestic purposes (by way of contrast, a typical large irrigated commercial vineyard uses hundreds of acre feet of water per year). It’s already in the law and is fully compliant with SGMA.

Larry and Susan McGourty publish an online Central Coast food, wine and recipe website and are enthusiastic supporters of home grown produce, our local farmers markets and the farmers who run them.

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19 Comments

  1. Slowerfaster says:

    If you want to discourage something; the first step is to establish control through economic power, monopoly, or cartel.

    The McGourty’s think they will be excluded from the voracity of the big fish, and they will be wrong.

    (3) 7 Total Votes - 5 up - 2 down
  2. Citizen says:

    This article is BS. People are moviing here in droves to plant wine grapes–not vegetables.
    Wine is not a necessary food. We don’t need more wine.

    People are buying 5 and 10 acre plots to grow their wine grapes. When the water disappears, they will leave, driving away in their Mecedes and BMWs with no concern about the water or our county.

    The alternative to not having a moratorium is having nothing to keep the greedy vineyard owners (large and small) out of our county. It is the wine industry that has devastated our ground water supply, not local farmers and ranchers.

    So, if you support local produce and the availability of water for growing food , then you have to be against new vineyards which continue to use and abuse our ground water supply.

    (16) 30 Total Votes - 23 up - 7 down
    • HWTED says:

      Citizen, read the article again. That is exactly the point. This is not a moratorium on planting. If you have the money you can still plant anywhere you want, even in severely impacted areas like the vicinity of Paso Robles.

      The offsets have not and will not adversely impact deep pocket vineyard owners, just small farmers and residents.

      (2) 16 Total Votes - 9 up - 7 down
      • Citizen says:

        It’s true that the large wealthy companies will be able to buy offsets , but the net effect on the water basin will be zero. At this point, there is no other way to go.

        It’s the basin we have to try to protect, and somehow we have to get away from this wine industry draw where we still have hordes of new people coming to the county to grow wine grapes.
        To help the people who are small water users, all the wells will have to be metered. How else can it be determined that someone uses less than 2 acre feet unless we have every well metered through “heavy handed government regulations”.

        (5) 5 Total Votes - 5 up - 0 down
        • Citizen says:

          I am not recommending metering; I am just saying that if you want everything to be equal, then you have to be able to measure the water used.I personally hope we don’t get to that point.

          (-1) 1 Total Votes - 0 up - 1 down
  3. NorthCountyGuy says:

    More overreaching government tyranny.

    (-1) 17 Total Votes - 8 up - 9 down
    • Hydrophylic says:

      You govt haters crack me up. So the government should sit by idly while our shared water resource is completely depleted?
      It may be a necessary evil but, it’s OUR government. You have a say in it. If there ever was a time when govt should be stepping into our affairs, this would be it. If govt didn’t do anything about the groundwater depletion, would you be the first to start complaining about the ‘worthless, do-nothing govt?”

      (10) 20 Total Votes - 15 up - 5 down
  4. Jorge Estrada says:

    Water availability insurance should be like fire insurance, a personal choice, just like it is at the time of the land purchase. The loss due to a lack of water is an economic issue, something that can be quantified thence insured. Why does anybody else need to get involved?

    (-1) 7 Total Votes - 3 up - 4 down
  5. TaxMeAgain says:

    Selfish people will destroy this planet.

    (11) 15 Total Votes - 13 up - 2 down
    • r0y says:

      They’ve been saying that since at least 1884.

      To quote one of their own, George Bernard Shaw:
      You must all know half a dozen people at least who are no use in this world, who are more trouble than they are worth.
      Just put them there and say Sir, or Madam, now will you be kind enough to justify your existence?
      If you can’t justify your existence, if you’re not pulling your weight, and since you won’t, if you’re not producing as much as you consume or perhaps a little more, then, clearly, we cannot use the organizations of our society for the purpose of keeping you alive, because your life does not benefit us and it can’t be of very much use to yourself.

      (4) 10 Total Votes - 7 up - 3 down
  6. reason says:

    Before you claim that permanent, county-wide water offset regulation proposals are being considered by the BOS you should do some due diligence. The proposal before the BOS on Tuesday is at: http://agenda.slocounty.ca.gov/agenda/sanluisobispo/4387/QWcgV2F0ZXIgT2Zmc2V0IFByb2dyYW0ucGRm/12/n/40545.doc

    It is not county-wide. In fact the new state law exempts the Santa Maria Groundwater Basin (Pismo to the Santa Maria River) from such regulations. The proposed regulations are Paso specific.

    If you read the proposal, it only applies to the Paso basin, and only when in is a Level III Severity (which it is in now). When the Paso basin leaves that severity, the offset regulation expires as part of the regulation.

    This BOS item (Agenda Item 31 on Tuesday) is not the end or the world, and certainly not the dire and intrusive regulation you claim. As a litigant in the Steinbeck lawsuit, you should focus on your issues and not try to scare the whole County into believing a water conspiracy you contrive for your own special interests.

    Peace and rain

    (14) 38 Total Votes - 26 up - 12 down
    • snooky156 says:

      Well said, Reason. I also think it’s important to separate groundwater which is a shared resource from land, which in this case is privately-held and managed.

      Urban water users are doing their part to help compensate for over-pumping by paying to import water from Nacimiento and by paying for upcoming water reclamation in Paso Robles. Their water use is measured and they are already under conservation restrictions.

      Even during the off-set program, the basin will still be over-pumped. During over-pumping, more rural groundwater will lose access to the shared resource and will NOT be reasonably compensated. By fighting measurement and management of the shared resource, the authors are speaking for their own current interest of land management, but not for the interest of managing future water resources for the entire basin.

      (10) 16 Total Votes - 13 up - 3 down
    • Myself says:

      Pretty much a sticky wicket no matter how you look at it,but once the bos gets its fingers in the pipeline in Paso and have the new employees in place for water management it will never stop,they will then want to manage the rest of the water from Cambria to Pismo, the infrastructure would be in place and then they’ll want meters and payment from here also.
      Water is about all thats left for tax and there heading that way.

      (-5) 19 Total Votes - 7 up - 12 down
    • HWTED says:

      Yes reason, we all need to read the proposal carefully.

      So tell us reason, where does a resident living on a couple of acres in the basin go to get a water offset to keep a couple of goats, maybe a horse and plant a couple of tomatoes in her backyard? Apparently Under section 1.2.d Applicability, she is regulated too if total use exceeds 1000sq feet immediately exterior to her house (sec 1.3 Non-Commercial Small-Scale Agriculture).

      This new regulation is incredibly intrusive, and like the last round of regulation which just resulted in an increase of new vineyard plantings, this round will do exactly the same. No wonder PRAAGS and PWE support it.

      Be afraid reason. The board in on the record stating they need to do something about all the groundwater basins in the county. If they get away with this, this is just the opening round of county wide regulation.

      (4) 12 Total Votes - 8 up - 4 down
  7. CrestonRules says:

    Cap and trade will take prime ag land out of production. Those seeking water use that own inferior soils will buy credits from those that use water on prime soils. Bad idea.
    Municipalities are by far the largest users of water in the Paso Basin. Currently, they are not subject to conservation measures or the emergency ordinance. In fact, development has gotten the green rubber stamp in Paso and Atascadero over the last few years of our drought. There is only so much water to pump and seems like the attitude is the supply is infinite to some. Vote no on the PRAAGS water district, this favors big time the large ag interests at the expense of rural land owner. Oh, and the city water rate payers will feel the pinch too. And don’t be scared into we have to do something because of the Pavely Dickenson legislation, “The State will step in….”. They don’t have the man power nor the inclination to take on that fight for every ground water basin. Our county has the means and authority to manage the basin ‘locally”.

    (8) 28 Total Votes - 18 up - 10 down
    • obispan says:

      “they don’t have the manpower or the inclination to take on that fight for every ground water basin. Au contraire mon frere. Never a shortage of manpower or funds for these almost quasi-governmental bodies like APCD and Stormwater Management Districts that charge their own fees under decide their own salaries.

      (0) 0 Total Votes - 0 up - 0 down
      • obispan says:

        I would have proofread but the comment box had just one line that kept disappearing…

        (0) 0 Total Votes - 0 up - 0 down
  8. Myself says:

    I’d talk to our supervisor, but its gibson,I’d be wasting my breath,my next address will be on Kansas Ave at the county jail,I’m not paying for a water meter,a hook up or asking to use my water to farm with,I can see we’re going to have a problem on our hands.

    (2) 40 Total Votes - 21 up - 19 down
  9. obispan says:

    Thank you Mr. & Mrs. Obvious. Residential water use takes precedence over agricultural use.
    Add to this the fact that development of ag lands beats the pants off ag in terms of profit, “the final harvest.” Get going on development of your land ASAP or find yourself with useless, waterless land. We will be purchasing all our food from Mexico through Walmart anyway. If you want to be hippies be prepared to pay full market price for water from a “managed” basin but do not get in the way of others’ very lucrative real estate opportunities.

    (-14) 26 Total Votes - 6 up - 20 down

Comments are closed.