Supervisors will extend water moratorium
February 24, 2015
By DANIEL BLACKBURN
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.”