Proposed Paso Robles water district tax unjust

August 19, 2015
Sue Harvey

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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AB2453 is the best option for farmers and locals and it it is a temporary opportunity. It provides for a balanced fair board that represents our community as fairly as possible. We have always had owners who live else where but they are owners and deserve some rights, but they cannot be board members.

Vote this down and we will regret it forever. It is fair and we are lucky to have this took to forge our future to the extent it is possible. Quit fighting and come together. We all came here and found a great place to live plus forged a resurgent economy led by wine grapes and wineries whether you want to admit it it not. Retired fire fighters raising a few cattle and going on rides does not drive our economy.


Thanks Sue, well written.


Sounds like a plan. Let’s defeat the district, vote no on the tax and go back to what we are doing. Then be shocked when the State shows up on our doorstep to require meters on our wells and imposes fees without our permission. That’s the community spirit. Call each other liars and idiots, instill fear that the mysterious “they” are going to steal our water. Then the Steinbeck group will say you are really going to like it when a decade later you will see what a grand and glorious job a judge in Santa Clara did to bring peace and harmony to Paso landowners.


Sorry jacksprat, there is no going back now. The basin IS in adjudication. That judge in Santa Clara is not there to bring peace and harmony to the basin. He is not there to make friends. He is there to see that the basin is in balance, and not to do it by taking anyone’s water rights away, no matter how small or large their property is. But, at the same time he will order the largest water users to use their water rights responsibly without impacting their neighbors and damaging the basin. Is that really too much to ask?

A decade from now you may not like it if you are part of that small self-privileged PRAAGS group that thinks their 90% share of the groundwater is not enough, but the rest of us will still have working wells and the basin will be in balance.


No, it is not in adjudication and it won’t be fully adjudicated until basin boundaries are defined and every landowner is brought into your lawsuit. Filling a bunch of papers and having a few hearings is not even close. But you know that. You people dispute every piece of data and demean personally everyone who disagrees with you.

The basin will not be “adjudicated” until a judge issues a final decision…10 years from now. The new state law says we have to do the same thing a judge will do only a lot quicker. Don’t sit down with your fellow neighbors; refuse to engage responsibly with public officials and keep attacking every Supervisor that doesn’t agree with you; the very group you want to be in charge for the rest of our lives. You are the ones who are threatening my water rights because the cities will force you to prove the basin wasn’t in overdraft when all the reports and scientists say that has been for decades. Thanks for poking the bear. Now we are all in trouble.

Tell the state they got it wrong when they said this basin is in critical overdraft. Good luck with that. You are right and every hydrologist and expert and consultant group who ever studied the basin are lunatics Adjudication, the snake oil being sold by a group that doesn’t even comprehend what the state has said we must do. Adjudication, the elixir that cures all.


Whoa, who is calling names and disputing every piece of data?

Filing papers and having court hearings is how adjudication starts.

SGMA gives you 20 years to reach balance and sustainability. Even Santa Maria which was very complex only took 16 years to fully adjudicate.

All POWR meetings are open to the public and anyone can come to learn more and discuss the issues and disagree if they are so inclined. No one can be forced to join.

Anti-AB 2453 advocates attend all the supervisor meetings and groundwater related meeting. They respectively disagree with the three men who are pushing the LAFCO process. They follow the process openly and file comments publicly for the record fully staring who they are and what their property interests are in the basin.

Prescription doesn’t work that way, the cites need to prove they have openly and notoriously over-pumped for 5 years during an overdraft. That reality doesn’t go away even if the district is formed. Besides, if you are disinclined to defend your primary water rights against secondary rights holders’ claims, and are inclined to just give them them up to the AB 2453 district anyway, why do you even care? If the district doesn’t get voted in, you still have the option to from an opt-in district and give up your water rights that way.

The supervisors are in total control right now and that won’t change with AB 2453. Ask anyone with undeveloped property who wants to build a house or plant.

If the basin is in overdraft and local government has in their possession reports that actually prove that, then they have violated numerous agreements such as the PRIOR agreement where they have a fiduciary obligation to report an overdraft with all the legal consequences that entails. File an FOIA request on the subject if you like. I seriously doubt you will find any public official who will agree with your assertion of “critical overdraft.”

The CASGEM data pushes the basin into high priority because of erroneous population data. The data was not verified and Mathis said that some of the population data is “somewhat arbitrary.” On all water metrics we are not in serious condition. Comments will be submitted at the Clovis meeting next week.

Adjudication is not an elixir, just the best option we have available.

See jacksprat, we can disagree without name calling.


You make my point, you dispute the data…again. You said a judge two counties away is; “not there to bring peace and harmony to the basin. He is not there to make friends.” With that as your core belief, it is no wonder I have personal emails that refer to those that support a district as liars and stealers of our water. Listen to KPRL as almost daily, those in the lawsuit use such terms as,”retarded stepchildren, liars [their most popular word] and morons” when referring to those by name that don’t agree that adjudication is the cure all. It has become ground zero for the tinfoil hat conspiracy theories on selling our water to Los Angeles.

Watch when a few people who don’t agree with your “court as a first resort” approach stop and try to have a civil discussion at your roadside stands, only to be physically poked in the ribs by a “patriot’ wearing an American flag shirt and told; “get outta here!” If that’s not enough, watch any video of past supervisor’s meetings on water and judge for yourself which side is the more civil and respectful.

Try as you might, you are never going to convince the vast majority of landowners of your sue first – ask questions later approach is the way to go. It is evident the Steinbeck group is flummoxed by the new state law. It forces us as a community to sit down and figure it out. You can’t be at the table because you are the plaintiff and the local agencies are the defendants. All you want to do is flip over the chess board because you don’t like the the way the game is going.

AB 1390 is winding its way through the legislature that will give your judge the discretion to delay your case up to 5 years if our community is complying with SGMA and working together to develop a new plan and has a governing agency in place. He can then direct that agency, which could be the water district, to follow the very plan we citizens developed on our own without you. Kinda drips with irony that a water district could wind up directing you by court order. And this is what you could get after spending about $10,000 a month on lawyer fees for a decade or more. Makes you wonder what kind of cars those lawyers in Bakersfield will be driving in 10 years.


Well jacksprat, this may be a “chess game” to you and your gaggle of lawyers, but to the rest of us, it is deadly serious.

You are right, I bet Conat and Lemieux have great cars, Markman’s ride is a new Porsche, I saw it at the “All things water -sorta” meeting. Oh, I’m sorry, those are a few of your lawyers.

California courts have superior authority to regulate groundwater use in a basin, which is why the new law SGMA recognizes adjudication as a valid management structure.

Purveyors and appropriators do not like adjudication because it puts the power to control groundwater in the hands of the landowners, so AB 1390 was put forward. Your lawyers are backing it, which is telling where you are coming from. But, AB 1390 is in trouble. Pavley (of SGMA fame) does not support it and has put SB 266 forward, and the Governor has his own plan. We will see where it settles out.

I assume you are an irrigator. I dry farm, that was my choice. You have a perfected water right, I don’t. My water right is not perfected, and I stand behind you in priority and probably will never irrigate unless a voluntary irrigation district is formed. You will lose nothing under adjudication, the basin will be sustainably managed so you can keep using your groundwater access to beneficial use now and in the future.

When the basin is adjudicated, you have nothing to loose and a lot more to gain than I have. So, it is not unreasonable to ask why are you so excited about giving up your guaranteed water rights for an allocation and taxing people who will receive no benefit?


Fix the funding is the obvious answer.


With all due respect, I cannot remember when Ms Harvey has been FOR anything. The fee schedule really cannot seriously be objectionable, smaller acreage landowners will cost more than a simple proportionate amount to process whether SGMA or a District.

The Landowner vote was proposed by Supervisor Arnold at a late running Supervisors meeting and picked up Mecham support, then voted in. Arnold then continued to oppose even a vote by those same landowners. How can Ms Harvey, Arnold et al oppose even voter choice?

How about some constructive progress rather than Los Osos type obstruction at every turn? Suggest what can help rather than say no to everything? Or wait 20 years and pay much more then like Los Osos.


norco, that’s exactly the problem with SGMA, is not all that it is cracked up to be. All it requires you to do now is write a plan in 5 years. Then it gives you 20 years to actually reach sustainability. No wonder the big irrigators want the AB 2453 district. When the bill comes due in 20 years, the big abusive water users will have cashed out and moved on.

Only adjudication (which is never mentioned by the county as a solution) is tackling the issue head on -that is the entire point of the process, use the power of the courts to bring the basin back into sustainability, and once there keep it there. And YES, this basin IS in adjudication now.

Before things get complicated with overdrafts and prescriptions, now is the time to adjudicate and settle water rights once and for all in the basin. Let everyone know where they stand water wise, stop the uncertainty and destruction of property values in the basin and stop this number fudging political football and put the basin under scientific not political management to insure it really is sustainable.

When water rights are fairly adjudicated, if the big water users don’t like it and think they need more water than the basin can safely sustain, they are free to form an irrigation district and bring in more water at their own expense -like the county and the cities did and are doing to their credit. But failing that, they need to live within the sustainable resource available like everyone else.


Everyone needs to be sure and thank Frank Mecham for this mess. He assisted Adam Hill and Bruce Gibson who are behind this unsubstantiated mess, where numbers don’t match facts, where they have controlled this who mess with staff, attorney’s. LAFCO, Assemblyman Achadijan, the support of large stakeholders, and all done for the benefit of a few. There is going to be big bucks made by some folks and big donations paid to others.

Thanks, Frank!


I do believe that Frank Mecham is the only one of the three who truly understands that by creating the water district, we are handing over “local” control to the corporate wine industry and the water broker, Stewart Resnick. Notice how quiet Mecham has been lately.

Gibson and Hill were originally trying to control the water pumping by vineyards to save the aquifer, and they saw the water district proposal as a solution. But since the water district proposal was changed by the state legislature, they really do not understand the corporate take over made possible by allowing non local businesses to be represented (as is required by state law).

The water district may be controlled by locals in the beginning, but as shown in many other water districts and by Jerry Reagh already dropping out, people who are running their own businesses and trying to serve with a water district will get tired of competing with global corporations who can hire someone to serve full time.

People who sell their grapes to these corporations (like Gallo) will be hesitant to object to policies initiated by the very people who could decide not to buy their grapes (which sometimes results in being blackballed by all the big guys) and others will go along trying to suck up to the industry conglomerates thinking they will gain favoritism. Meanwhile, the corporations will continue to buy acreage to increase their voting power.

IMO, the water district which can sell water (by state law) will be controlled by out of county billionaires in 5 to 10 years, and water will be sold to LA developers just as the Kern County water is being sold from the Kern County water bank.

Please read Lois Henry’s account in the Bakersfield Californian of how Resnick gained control of the Kern County water bank, and the many online articles calling Linda and Stewart Resnick the “Koch Brothers of Calilfornia Water”.


“… Jerry Reaugh already dropping out…” ??? More detail, please.


It was announced on KPRL that Jerry Reaugh had informed them that he planned to retire, but would stay in the area. If you need to know details, then I suggest you call him.


Thanks to Ms. Harvey I have to pay more for river sand because she and NCW shut down Viborgs . Thanks to Ms Harvey I have to pay more for utilities because she and NCW battled the solar projects and held them hostage in the Plains. As a little guy, I am having a hard time believing she opposes this because she wants good for me….


Oh I don’t know about that just4fun. Your comments always sound a bit fishy to me.

cranky taxpayer

And this first million is just the set-up cost. No one is saying what more it will cost us when the PRAAGS boys decide on their supplemental water projects.

And why would we even want to hand control of our water to the Big Grapes that caused the problem in the first place ?

We Pay. They Pump. Vote NO !


Ms Harvey:

Are you suggesting that “Rural Residential,” “vacant parcels,” and “non-irrigated ag” should have de minimus representation in the district, or simply that they should pay less?


Yes, they should pay less!

Sue Harvey

Hi Racket – My position has always been that the proposed district funding plan unfairly taxes the de minimis user. There is no correlation between water use or acreage owned and a right to participate in governance and for that reason I oppose voting structures based on acreage. Are you a de minimis user or one of the 12% being subsidized by rural residents?

Sue harvey


I’m neither. I’m just looking at balance.

My presumption is that the proposed water district is to protect the water rights holders in the district. Further, I presume that to mean, essentially, protecting the smaller shallow-well rights holders from the deep-pocket deep-well rights holders.

If both presumptions are accurate then it is unfair to charge the big guys MORE to take something from them and hold it for you.


Your presumption is wrong. You have to read the water district proposal to understand. Once the original water district proposal went to the legislature, it was adapted to water district law and everything changed.

The water district is not restricted to local owners, but allows representatives of out of county owners and corporations, and the water district (by the state constitution) is allowed to sell water outside the county, regardless of the BOS fee restriction.

Naive people who think that the district will remain under local control with global wine corporations and California’s billionnaire water broker represented on the board should read how the Kern County Water Bank ended up under the control of a private party, Stewart Resnick.


Categorically untrue. The water district law FORBIDS outside landowners from running for the board. Resnick or the big corporate guys can only vote for to 2 board members. The small landowners (about 3,000 of us) are represented by 3 members elected by popular vote plus two more who own 1 to 40 acres. That’s 5 to their 2. The other 2 are 40 to 400 and are mostly privately owned. At the meeting last Thursday, the County said that if the district is formed it can’t export any kind of water. They said water piped in here must stay here. This is our only protection against the big guys and the supervisors if they run it. If Compton gets voted out, that leaves us to the likes of Gibson, Hill or Ray. Remember her? Arnold and whoever replaces Mecham have no chance.


racket read the AB 2453 Bill. Do you see water rights and protections anywhere in that legislation? Your presumptions are so far off base, this bill does just the opposite. It removes both water rights and protection and turns the basin into a Balkanized region of water allocation classes dictated to by a water board free to do whatever they want. You don’t even have a legal redress procedure available if you believe as a class you are unfairly treated by “the board.”

Right now according to the county’s figures single family residence parcels are more than 50% of the total in the basin. But, if AB 2453 passes, they get 2 out of nine votes, or 22% representation. That is permanent minority representation status for the majority of the residents.

There is only one way to protect water rights, it is adjudication. In an adjudicated basin one square foot of land has exactly the same water rights as one square mile. In a 218 based district like AB 2453 is, that one square mile has 27,878,400 more rights that that one square foot.

And there is only one to really protect the basin, it is adjudication. In an adjudicated basin, the basin must be managed in a sustainable fashion from the start. The “management structure” recognizes that de minimus users have no real impact and focuses correctly on the big water users and starts cutbacks immediately to bring the basin back into balance. It does not give the basin a 20 year pass like SGMA does to reach sustainability. The management structure does not pick winners and loses by property size. It does not look or expect everyone to pay for “supplemental water” for the big water users. If the big water users want more water for their commercial operations than the basin can sustain, they are free to form an irrigation district -but at their own expense.

If you live on a small parcel and really care about your water rights and the health of the basin you really need to join the Quiet Title movement. The stakes are huge. If they lose this round, the proponent of the water district and the county are not going away. They will be back if we don’t protect ourselves. Only an adjudicated basin is going to preserve your water rights and protect the basin.




doesn’t look like a good deal………plus another layer of govt?