Supervisors will extend water moratorium

February 24, 2015
Frank Mecham

Frank Mecham


A divided San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to extend an amended water moratorium beyond its August expiration date following several hours of often edgy discussion of the controversial issue.

Supervisor Frank Mecham’s motion passed on a 3-2 vote, gaining support from supervisors Adam Hill and Bruce Gibson, and dissent from Chairwoman Debbie Arnold and Co-chair Lynn Compton.

County staff was directed to prepare a plan and an ordinance for introduction later this spring that would  (1) require that new agricultural development be water neutral, that is, develop or otherwise provide one acre-foot of new water for every acre-foot taken from the underground aquifer; (2) confer no new vested rights; (3) apply only to the Paso Robles water basin; and will sunset (conclude) upon the establishment of a finished ground water management plan. Such a plan is required by a new state law to be completed by 2020.

Mecham said, if “people think it’s easy sit up here and do this. It is not. All I can do is take the information I have been provided to make a decision. I have heard the concerns of people, and I am convinced that we need to put something in place, because something’s coming, whether we like it or not. The whole state is having problems.”

A long-time proponent of the ordinance, Gibson noted that the county is “stepping to the edge of the abyss. At stake are permanent damage and ruination of lives, livelihood, and life savings.” He suggested that “doing less is not the answer. If we don’t speak clearly on this subject we will see disaster in the Paso Robles basin.”

Arnold agreed that “absolutely we need solutions. I’m not in denial that there is a problem, it’s the approach I’m concerned about. The development of large prominent agriculture, the growing city of Paso Robles — that’s why the problem has been exacerbated. And it’s problematic because it is stripping people of their property use.”

Arnold proposed a exemption for 50-acre and smaller plantings, but Mecham refused to add the amendment.

Gibson then said he was “stunned” by Arnold’s comments, commenting acerbically that “you are standing at edge of this chasm wearing rose-colored glasses. I’m having a hard time reconciling your inability to take any meaningful action with how any of your proposals will solve anything.”

Compton said the prohibition “is only protecting the larger exploiters of the basin’s water — Paso Robles and the bigger vineyards — at the expense of 4,000 or so smaller property owners. Enacting this ordinance is rewarding the biggest users. We are picking winners and losers in this game.”

Jorge Estrada

Why people take a good article and respond with graffiti is very troubling to me.


I still don’t believe Arnold and Compton believe there’s a problem. Manifest destiny and gospel prosperity will prevail. Tree rings that show a history of 25-30 droughts in the “Great California Desert” are false science.

3 putt

Compton absolutely does NOT believe there is a problem. (Or she is closing her eyes to it in order to cater to her money people)


Supervisors Arnold and Compton indeed are concerned about the water issue, and don’t want it hijacked by the government. This “Don’t let a crisis go to waste” theme does not work with them: they want to protect all citizens and prevent a huger crisis of government mismanagement of our most important resource.


You are describing Frank Meacham, now a North County Tea Party pariah, not Arnold and Compton. They are not concerned about “government mismanagement” of water, they are against any management of water. It’s going to happen anyway so let’s corner a smaller and more valuable market. One that’s worth far more to water bankers than to Mom and Pop. Meacham sees this, chokes back the vomit, and votes with Gibson and Hill. Debbie and Lynn’s backers are a lot smarter than Debbie and Lynn.

3 putt



Mr. Mecham – Not one of us said what you do is easy or difficult but, place trust in you to do a job and refrain from complaining about it. Make a decision, stand by it and lets roll my friend. No need to personalize your personal struggles with me!

Jorge Estrada

The Board of Supervisors have levied another action against the parties that have the priority right to the water that quenches their land.

What are the Consequences of this taking?

Will a prescribed period be attained that will permanently strip the water right from the land owners who have not engaged in their defense thence becoming negligent land owners?

For certain, the antiquated application / incompleted project, The Salinas Reservoir, has not been included in the County Wide Ordinance so the Board has insured plenty of water for new development in San Luis Obispo and the others that SLO may sell water to.

Remember what happened to the Owens Ground Water Basin, (Owens Valley).


the board is again near sighted and is costing us our future. Drought conditions are likely here for the next 25 to 30 years even if it is cyclical and not man induced climate change. we need a water source that is de coupled from rainfall. That clown Gibson thinks the solution is another pipe line from Nacimiento and Compton isn’t sure there is a crisis. We need to follow the San Diego example and install a Desalination plant or plants to help support our county. The answer is very simple by the way….convert the Morro Bay power plant to a desal plant. It has the permits, the building is up, power is available from

diablo canyon and Whale Rock reservoir is 4 miles away…an easy pipeline installation. From Whale rock the water can be distributed county wide. Expensive yes but doable and a lifesaver for the county. In wet years shut it down or continue to pipe into the paso basin. It will take decades to restore it

Mr. Holly

Thank you for this information which would have cost the taxpayers probably close to $50,000 for another study and years of deliberation.


Sam is right on the money. Desal plants enable agriculture in many desert areas around the world. Saudi Arabia has 27 which supply about 50% of that country’s water.

Here’s a math problem: how many desal plants like San Diego’s could be built with the money CA is spending on a high speed rail? I already know the answer, it’s pretty amazing. One last question: what does CA NEED, water or a high speed rail?

Our “representatives” are imbeciles.


If you really want to see how backward our state is, check out wikipedia’s article on desal in Saudi Arabia, I just finished reading it-

“Average water tariffs range from US$0.06 to US$0.10/m3, which are among the lowest in the world. The Kingdom has an increasing block tariff structure, but the majority of the consumers fall in the first two blocks where water charges are minimal. Customers with a water use of less than 100 cubic meter per month pay only 0.1 Riyals/m3 (US$0.03/m3).”

A cubic meter is about 264 gallons. So if you use less that 26,400 gallons a month, you pay $3. That’s 880 gallons PER DAY for less than a Starbuck’s coffee per MONTH. I can support that…


The studies already performed locally show that desalination costs more than $2000 per acre foot, and depending on where intake is, desalination generates a MASSIVE waste stream. Open ocean intake generates 1 gallon by volume of waste for every 1 gallon of water gained. What do you do with that waste?

Then, you’re talking about pumping that desalinated water to an elevation gain of hundreds of feet. Pipelines are expensive, pumping is expensive, the energy you need to do this is expensive, and the impacts on local ecology can be expensive. Agriculture will not pay for that. Battles are already being fought over simple Conservation measures. Your plan for Desalination will simply put the cost of over-pumping the Paso Robles Groundwater on others… Because you are unable to handle the situation yourselves.


These are the SAME lame arguments water developers were making 40 years ago to avoid desal discussions. Imagine where this state could be today if narrow thinking like this had not prevailed all these years. Snooky156 is simply a protector of the status quo.


Wow! Here’s the solution–what is stopping us from doing this?..


Moratoriums do not save water. Offset programs do. Los Osos has been saving 2:1 since 2008 and in doing so nearly 200 new homes worth of water has been saved by just a few home builder’s efforts. The price is very high, about $25,000 per acre foot. The private sector has been willing to pay it in order to build their dream homes. Of course, we’re only talking about 3 homes a year (on average) due to the sewer moratorium that covers most of the town.


The moratorium is the only way to limit the amount of water taken from the Paso Robles water basin AT THIS TIME. We cannot allow outsiders to move in and start more vineyards, and we can’t allow more expansion of vineyard acreage.

Hopefully, the County will do their job this time and not allow exceptions.

While many vineyards are using water conservation methods, many are not. You can drive around North County and see overhead sprinklers pumping the water out. So far this year we have about 6 inches of rain (the average rainfall for our area is about 14 inches per year during non drought times).

Mechum, Hill, and Gibson did the right thing for our county. Contrary to what Lynn Compton said, the prohibition is not protecting bigger vineyards, it’s protecting the North County water supply (as much as it can be protected).

Jorge Estrada

The biggest issue that faces the Salinas River is the public’s blind eye to the diversion of water for San Luis Obispo. There is no good reason to blow this off as a done deal yet we regulate downstream owners while changing the course of the river upstream. Why is development on the other side of the hill ok with basin water?

A good citizen would open their eyes before they vote.


I seem to remember once being told by county staff, that water can not be taken from one area and shipped to another for use, unless that area is in the same district.

Is that is what is going on here? Move the goal posts…