Proposed Paso Robles water district tax unjust
August 19, 2015
OPINION By SUE HARVEY
Open Letter to San Luis Obispo County LAFCO Commissioners:
San Luis Obispo County Supervisors approved a funding plan for their proposed Paso Robles Groundwater District that unfairly taxes and penalizes rural residential users, vacant parcels, and non-irrigated acreage. The county’s intent was to devise a fair and legal Prop. 218 funding mechanism for the proposed district but the plan approved by the supervisors on August 18 falls far short.
According to the 2011 Paso Robles Groundwater Basin update, rural residential use is 3 percent of the safe annual yield of water pumped out of the basin. The same report identified the annual safe yield at 89,000 acre feet/year (af/y) for the entire basin, including the Atascadero sub-basin which is excluded from the county’s application for a district.
The Atascadero sub-basin yield has been identified in previous basin reports as 16,000 af/y. So, the annual yield of the area proposed for the Paso Robles Groundwater District is 73,000 af/y. Based on these numbers, rural residential use is about 2,670 af/y.
On August 20th, the Local Agency Formation Commission will hold its first hearing on an application from the supervisors for a groundwater district.
According to the analysis in the county’s funding proposal for a Paso Robles Groundwater District, residential use, vacant parcels, and non-irrigated acreage accounts for 88 percent of the land use; irrigated Ag accounts for 12 percent of the land use and uses 90 percent of the water.
Residential groundwater pumpers are generally considered to be de minimis users. De minimis is defined as “too trivial or minor to merit consideration, especially in law.”
From a practical and logical standpoint, de minimis users should be exempted from any charges related to a district, water projects, or the implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). SGMA identified de minimis users as using not more than two acre feet per year. The authors of SGMA recognized who is doing the lion’s share of pumping and allowed for the exemption of the de minimis users from the requirements of SGMA, meaning no need to monitor, report, or tax de minimis users.
Rather than acknowledging the reality of the de minimis impact of rural residential, vacant parcels, or non-irrigated acreage and fairly apportioning costs of a special irrigation district, the county is proposing to charge the smallest users five times their fair share. Look at the numbers.
Based on the County’s budget of $950,000 annually for the new water district:
Rural Residential uses 3 percent of the water: Fair share = $28,500. Yet rural residents will be taxed for 15 percent of the costs = $142,500.
Vacant parcels use no water: Fair share 0 percent. Yet vacant parcels will be taxed for 2.2 percent of the costs = $21,570.
Non-irrigated acreage likely uses little to no water: Fair share 0 percent to .05 percent. Yet non- irrigated acreage will be taxed for 8 percent of costs = $78,240.
Irrigated agriculture uses 90 percent of the water: Fair share = $855,000. Yet irrigated ag will pay only 69 percent of the costs = $655,020.
The biggest pumpers will be paying 21 percent less than their fair share.
De minimis users will be subsidizing the water use of the largest pumpers over the basin. And the unjust taxes won’t stop there. De minimis users will continue to be unfairly and disproportionately taxed for any future costs or projects that the proposed Paso Robles Groundwater District might undertake.
To the Local Agency Formation Commissioners: Deny the district or fix the funding.
Susan Harvey is the environmental-at-large representative on the Paso Robles Basin Advisory Board, the president of North County Watch, a 501c3 public benefit corporation, and a Paso Robles basin rural resident.
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