Judge rules: Atascadero sub-basin part of Paso Robles basin
February 10, 2016
A Santa Clara County judge ruled Wednesday that the Atascadero sub-basin is part of the Paso Robles basin raising new questions regarding an offset ordinance and a proposed water district.
In 2013, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors enacted an urgency ordinance, now a permanent ordinance, that limits water use over the Paso Robles basin, but not over the Atascadero sub-basin. Paso Robles vineyard owner Cindy Steinbeck and 600 other individuals and entities responded by filing a quiet title lawsuit seeking to protect their water rights.
In 2014, California passed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act — referred to as SGMA — which requires groundwater management of the Paso Robles basin. As a result, a groundwater sustainability agency must be formed by June 30, 2017 to manage the basin.
The agency could be a public water company, the county or a district funded by taxes collected from landowners above the basin. The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors voted not to include the Atascadero sub-basin in their application to LAFCO to form the water district, reasoning it could be managed separately from the Paso Robles basin.
As a result, landowners above the Atascadero sub-basin are not subject to the offset ordinance and are not included in the boundaries of the proposed Paso Robles basin district.
In Nov. 2015, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors scheduled three separate vote-by-mail elections, which were mailed out Monday and need to be returned by March 8. Property owners will vote on whether they support the formation of a water district, then on who should serve on the district’s board of directors and lastly on whether or not to approve a parcel tax to fund the district.
If passed, which requires voters to agree to both form the district and approve the parcel tax, the district board will have the power to tax landowners and limit water use.
However, Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Peter Kirwan, the judge presiding over Steinbeck’s quite title lawsuit, ruled Wednesday that the Atascadero sub-basin is part of the larger Paso Robles basin. While the boundaries of the Atascadero sub-basin are unclear, it is suspected to run from the south side of Santa Margarita north through Templeton.
The judge’s ruling calls into question the legitimacy of the proposed water district’s boundaries, the potential geographical application of the offset ordinance, and whether the SLO County Board of Supervisors made an informed decision.
The offset ordinance prohibits new development and the planting of crops in the Paso Robles basin area unless proposed projects save as much water as they use, but currently only applies to the northern portion of the Paso Robles Basin area.
“The judge’s ruling raises a whole set of new questions that no one knows the answers to,” Steinbeck said.