Water is worth fighting for

February 25, 2017

Cindy Steinbeck


Protect Our Water Rights (POWR), a coalition of North County landowners, was formed for a single purpose from which we have not wavered – to protect our members’ legally predominant rights to reasonably use the water beneath their lands.

Over time, many of our neighbors joined the fight, and POWR has steadily grown from an initial membership of seven landowners to over 1,200 individuals and entities owning over 20,000 acres. After three years of successful litigation, however, the window for landowners to join our action and defend their water rights as part of the POWR group is closing.

Many people have asked me why I decided to spearhead this action, and what the group hopes to achieve. POWR has a simple purpose: To secure our constitutionally-guaranteed right to have the first priority to reasonably and beneficially use of groundwater on our properties. This vision and purpose has kept us strong and growing in both numbers and knowledge.

Legally, it is accomplished by quieting title to our rights as against any adverse claims by urban water “purveyors.” It is simple, we must protect our individual rights or those rights can be lost. This is true for all landowners who rely on groundwater, no matter how small your parcel.

The right to reasonably use of the water underneath your property is known as an “overlying right.” Under California law, all landowners have an equal overlying right relative to each other, and that right is superior to the rights of municipalities or water purveyors to sell groundwater to urban consumers. This makes sense when you think about it. If you live or farm in a rural area, your only source of water is likely your groundwater well.

By contrast, urban areas have the ability and the tax base to acquire water from a variety of sources.

Despite its legal superiority, your overlying right can essentially be stolen from you under a legal theory called prescription, which is similar to adverse possession.

In fall of 2013, the founding members of POWR filed a quiet title action against the County of San Luis Obispo and four other purveyors of water in the Paso Robles Basin—the City of Paso Robles, San Miguel Community Services District, Templeton Community Services District, and Atascadero Mutual Water Company—because of the strong suspicion that these defendants were trying to usurp the water rights of rural landowners.

This suspicion was proven correct when all of the defendants except Atascadero Mutual Water Company asserted prescription in response to the lawsuit. Essentially, each of those municipal purveyors has admitted in court that they intend to steal the water out from under rural landowners in order to sell it to their own urban customers. This has already happened in other areas throughout the state—we cannot let it happen here if we value our rural way of life!

POWR has sometimes unfairly been criticized by those who mistakenly think that we filed this action because we want to be able to use as much water as we please without restriction or regard for the natural limits of the resource.

Quite the contrary—we filed this action because we are acutely aware of the extent to which our quality of life depends on this most precious resource, and we didn’t want to see its use decided by politics or the most financially powerful.

You may also have heard about the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, or SGMA– which mandates sustainable management of the state’s groundwater basins– and think that such a law makes POWR’s lawsuit unnecessary. Again, this is a misconception. First, SGMA expressly says that it does not alter existing water rights law, which means actions like ours to quiet title to the legal superiority of our overlying rights when they are threatened are still necessary.

Second, one of the biggest problems with SGMA is that it effectively puts the fox in charge of the hen house: the Groundwater Sustainability Agencies, or GSAs, formed to manage the basins can only be made up of local governmental agencies, water districts, or mutual water companies—in other words, the same water purveyors who are supposed to have the most junior rights will be deciding who gets to use the water and for what purpose!

This, again, subjects our most vital resource to the whims of the political process and financial influence. SGMA’s goal of achieving sustainability in groundwater use is a good one, but the law as written is far from a panacea.

These are the reasons why my family and I, along with 1,200-plus other POWR members, continue to fight this fight. Throughout this process, I have continued to hold informational meetings at my family’s winery, open to anyone who is interested, to explain the same things I have tried to explain here. Once they come to understand what is at stake, hundreds of landowners have joined us.

Due to a court-ordered deadline, however, POWR must close its membership list as of Feb. 28. After that deadline, no additional properties can be added to the lawsuit.

I will be holding one last educational and sign up meeting on Feb. 27 at 6 p.m., held at Steinbeck Vineyards, 5940 Union Road in Paso Robles.  You may also call 805-227-0776 for more information if you cannot make this meeting.

I encourage every rural landowner to educate themselves on this important topic, because nothing is more important to our daily lives than our access to water.

Jorge Estrada

A giant thanks to Cindy and her core supporters! Much time and travels have been donated to protect property rights. It was peaceful, legal and vigilant.


let’s ask the Resniks


Something to consider: Steinbeck is thought by many in the quiet title to represent the home owner against evil outside area landowners, yet her suit has no affect on them, only cities. In fact if she wins those “evil out of town vineyards” can pump all they want without regard to the home owner. That has been established as “reasonable and beneficial” overlyers rights in California already. In fact, her ads state “this is not about individual water use.”

Let the buyer of this article beware, as the henhouse here is the Paso basin and the fox’s headquarters is in a “family” winery on Union Road.



So what if Cindy is just a local family making money, her stated position “…to protect our members’ legally predominant rights to reasonably use the water beneath their lands.” shows where her heart is. Why is her right to water “predominant” over anyone else’s? Especially when her “crop” is one that isn’t necessary to anything but an alcoholic beverage?

Am I a city dweller? Have been but I was born in SLO, in Atascadero in 1956. I love the Central Coast, it’s my birthplace and if I could afford to live there it’s where I’d be. I’d be neck deep in a couple of community affairs, including a family’s “predominant” rights to water over that of a winery. Just because I’m not there doesn’t mean I don’t have a stake in SLO’s affairs; like it or not as long as I have a voice I’ll say what I please about SLO and its affairs and you can decide if it’s worth considering.

Jorge Estrada

I think you missed the point. Property rights are just that, what is yours is yours and what is mine is mine unless listed differently on the title report. This action is to include the fact that the State Constitutional water rights have been given the opportunity to be contested and will be perfected on the title of the participating land owners. This will prevent Johny come lately from drying up someone else’s land so that more condos can be built only to surround the remaining dry parched land. Seniority is for picking vacations, adjudication is for civil order.


I wonder what the Chumash would say about “owning water or land” they once resided on. Or any natives for the matter. This is a lesser of two evils outcome for Slo county at this point, sadly, with corrupt govt, and outside billionaires claiming mass amounts of land and extorting resources; Resnicks, specifically wineries. To state, I’m a fifth generation local, family owned land off 46 by Old Creek Road in the late 1800’s; my great great grandfathers barn still stands to date, and shit you not, dry farmed wine over 100 years ago, taking his grapes and wine to slo via horse and buggy, the man also fed his neighbors for years during the depression, sacrificing all profit, while Hearst built that lame ass castle in the clouds, if this adds any credence to anything. Small, sustainable farmers at this point seem to not have enough power to speak loudly enough to represent themselves as an entity, and could use a “lobbyist” on their behalf. Your well is getting worse ratherbefishing, my friends wells are getting worse, ancient aquifers are drying up, and literally can in 20 years of industrial pumping on large scale, reference China’s issues on PBS, BBC, I am talking peoples sustainably using a well for ages, then in 20-50 years, poof, gone. Our local representatives and large Wine growing land owning entities are not helping much. Wtf to do. Just adding to conversation because my heart is in this as a local. I care about the trout, sunfish, pike. Id wrather be fishing, before there is none to fish.


And sadly, any large scale industrial anything economy related, is finite, exacerbates a lot, and collapses. Look at any past civilization. Small scale, local and “very selective global economy” is the only means of refining a over burdened land,


There is a dry creek on my property that flows periodically (like now and is already beginning to dry up). Shortly after I moved here I met a very old local Cowman who had been born and raised here. He told me that he used to fish for trout in the creek, year round, as a kid. I asked when it began to dry up and he said around WW2, when the big alfalfa farms began. Now, only wet years the creek flows and only once has it flowed til June in my 35 yrs here. As well, just an anecdote.


A bummer. I used to see atascadero Creek and morro Creek flow all year round 20 years back, Salinas too. Laid a slaughter on trout in all those creeks back when, to my “gills” with trout for dinner. But alas, pumping too much has drained all or most of it. But, that’s life. Drought doesn’t help either.


“reasonably use the water beneath their lands”. The term reasonable obviously means something different to my POWR neighbors who consistently irrigate in 90+ degree temp with winds blowing over 20kt.

POWR or SGMA? Lovely choice of crap or….more crap. Who would use less water?

For principle, I guess I’d rather have SGMA metering our wells. My neighbors can pay for the waste of water due to their lazy and inept management and the vitners can try pass the buck to winos.


Sadly, most rural landowners assumed that the defeat of the Water District measure last March was the end of that issue. Unfortunately, the same promoters are back with new plans for two districts, one in the Shandon-San Juan area and one fro the Estrella-El Pomar-Creston areas. The LAFCO process is well down the road for both proposed districts.

A large percentage (50%+/-) of the acreage within these proposed districts is owned by out of area interests. These promoters/landowners want to control and profit from our groundwater. To facilitate their goals the districts want to become GSAs (Groundwater Sustainability Agencies) thereby having substantial influence on the management policies regarding groundwater. Presumably, they want to transfer water from Creston to the Estrella area where the City of Paso Robles has engaged in egregious pumping to facilitate the growth of the city. Paso’s pumping has lowered the static water level in a wide area around the city’s wells. e.g., Jardine, Ground Squirrel Hollow, etc.

Despite representations to the contrary, the promoters presumably will want to engage in the sale and export of groundwater. It is no coincidence that several very large parcels controlled by outside interests are located within a short distance of the state water project pipeline, which traverses the county through Cholame, Shandon, and Creston on its way to

Santa Barbara County. The California Department of Water Resources will likely encourage the sale and transport of water as they try to balance the water needs of California’s large population centers. As always just follow the money!

The POWR quiet title action is one way as rural landowners we can confirm our California Constitutional water rights, particularly from encroachment and potential adverse GSA policies, etc.


Excellent article Cindy…


I don’t know folks, a vineyard owner sitting with a glass of wine in her hands and talking about water rights? I’d say BULLSHIT!

Landowners also include homeowners, right? Their homes sit on a piece of land, right? Are their rights to the same ground water you speak of trumped by yours? I think so…

Statistics for the US Wine Industry in 2015 (2016 numbers not yet available):

Revenues for US Wine Sales = $38 billion, a 1.3% increase from 2014 (Gord0n, 2016) Number of Outlets in the US selling wine = 545,907 (Brager, 2016)

Total cases shipped: estimated 323 million, a .07% increase from 2014 (Impact Databank, 2016)

Percentage from California = 60%

Percentage from Other States = 9%

Percentage from Imports: 31%, (21 million cases in bulk)

The US continues to be the largest wine consuming nation since 2010 (Wine Institute, 2015)

2015 is the 23nd consecutive year of grown for US wine sales

You have had 23 years of consecutive growth, a 1.3% growth in 2015. California makes up 60% of the wine exported to the world from this country. Now consider those outstanding numbers when considering California being in the worst drought in the states history.

I can only say one thing; shut the f*** up and uncork another one, Wino! Because your bullshit isn’t worth fertilizing your vineyard with!


So, because you don’t like grape growers you dismiss her point and side with municipalities stealing water (for profit) from the outlands? These municipalities had a chance to join in on the state water project many years ago but didn’t want to pay; we rural folk had no such opportunity. Not everyone who has rural property uses a lot of water or even engages in agriculture to make a living, apparently an endeavor you find objectionable.


Ag’ that all benefit from is just fine with me and their use of water should be relevant to their needs, right? From what I’ve read vinyards water use amount to about 30 gallons of water for every glass of let’s say cabernet. 30 gallons of water to produce what? 6oz’s of wine (the common pour in a restaurant)? Now factor in the fact that wine is not a life-supporting substance, such as let’s say vegetables, beef, poultry, you know? Food! Then throw in it’s much-publicized ties to alcoholism, a disease that can and will cause death, maybe you can see why I say this Wino needs to spew her Bullshit somewhere else.

If you raise a product that benefits all, like the ones I stated above, or those things that support those things, you have my blessings to use the water needed in your endeavor; from that point on down stream the first consideration(s) should be family dwellings, schools, places of business and the rest of it to be used further on down the stream with what’s left over according to importance, with wine probably pretty far down the stream.

I don’t know about the thefts referred to and I’ll take some time and do a little digging but it won’t change my opinion on the stuffed shirt vino industry being a puffed up piece of shit not caring about anything other than their money producing vines.


I won’t defend the wine industry, as I too despise the greedy rapine of water and the associated “high financial trickery”. However, a broken clock is correct a couple times per day (sorry for the trite cliche). I speak as the small rural property owner who has to pay for everything from drilling, equipment, maintenance and electricity. I’ve been here for 35 yrs and seen the changes. My water lever is decreased from the vineyards and I don’t grow grapes. That said, I resent to hell some governmental entity now making rules that will hurt everyone, including those who have never abused the water. The apparent solution always seems to be a blanket “control/meter the wells and allocate” as opposed to put on a surcharge tax on abusive users. This is a very complicated issue and slapping a meter on my well won’t fix it, especially in this corrupt county.


“I resent to hell some governmental entity now making rules that will hurt everyone, including those who have never abused the water.”

So would I, and do when it comes to other areas that government seems to intrude on at its whim, but….. What can you expect when those that stand to profit the most from this kind of shit won’t even entertain the thought of some sort of self-control as not to burden the rest of us with some law that directly affects us while not being personally relevant to us? Not to mention their complete lack of empathy for those who are most at risk; families just trying to have enough clean water to drink!

The sir charge tax is a great idea, you would have to make it substantial enough to make it more profitable to follow it then it would be to break it (you know how that one works). It’s a trojan horse though, inside its guts the government would lurk…


RE: sur-tax

In my personal musings I have somewhat thought about it. LOL

Make it extremely painful and onerous if the owner doesn’t live and work(owner establishes residency) here and is so large that if usage is excessive; though not fully worked out, it would protect local family vineyards and penalize corporate entities. You can insert your fav recently newsworthy land rapist


“… local family vineyards”? Doesn’t that equate to “small business”?

Come on now! With our current political environment, these folks will be rewarded….


I’m sorry! That should have said ….

Those folks like Cindy will be rewarded…


How did Ms Steinbeck become the bad guy here? SV is not an absentee corporation to my knowledge. I have nothing at all against a local family making money.

I have to ask, are you a city dweller? It’s interesting when there is a crisis city folk become possessive of a commodity they never had stake in and then feel they have a right to it.