SLO County restricts water use, promotes selling rights

February 14, 2023


The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors is considering giving farmers the choice between planting crops or selling their water rights. It’s a move that could pay off for a group of large, wealthy landowners. The move came after supervisors reversed an ordinance allowing farmers who quit growing during the previous drought to plant crops

Large landowners spent more than a decade promoting water restrictions, banking and sales as the California drought reduced the amount of water available to farmers.

Many of the larger landowners planted crops before a restrictive water use ordinance went into effect. That locked in their water rights and increased the value of their land.

In 2018, Limoneira, a large commercial farm, described the financial benefits of its “water strategy.”

“The fair market value of the company should increase as the investment community begins to appreciate the linkage between Limoneira’s water position and its long-term business objectives,” according to the company’s water strategy. “What distinguishes Limoneira from competitors is our ability to directly and indirectly monetize the value of our water position through enhanced competitiveness positioning and profitability.”

In its letter, Limoneira explains its plans to capitalize on the transfers of water rights.

“Water transfers and exchanges can create a free market short, interim and long-term return on redistribution of water,” according to Limoneira’s water strategy.

During the early portion of the 2011 through 2016 drought, the county recommended farmers take a break from planting in order to protect the basin. Dozens of small farmers elected to reduce or to not plant at that time.

In 2013 the Board of Supervisors passed an offset ordinance that required farmers who were not growing, to provide water offsets to use more than 5 acre-feet a year.

Supervisor Debbie Arnold dissented, noting how decade-long farmers who stopped growing during the drought would lose their water rights. The supervisors put a sunset provision that would end the ordinance in two years.

Several years later, rather than sunset the ordinance, the board voted to make it permanent until a groundwater plan was in place.

Supervisor Arnold argued the county needed an ordinance to protect the small farmers who lost their rights during the 2011 drought.

In December, the board voted 3-2 to adopt a basin planting ordinance that would allow farmers not currently growing above the basin to use up to 25 acre-feet a year.

After receiving tens of thousands of dollars in donations from large farmers wanting to bank and sell water, on Feb. 7, supervisors Bruce Gibson, Jimmy Paulding and Dawn Ortiz Legg voted to rescind the planting ordinance passed in December, before it went into effect.

In support of their votes, Paulding and Ortiz Legg declared that the basin is in overdraft and that they need to restrict water rights to protect the basin.

Gibson argued that the California Department of Water Resources listed the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin in critical overdraft.

However, the executive director of the California Water Resources Control Board said that his agency made the overdraft determination based on “newspaper clips” and not on any “technical reports or maps,” according to an April 23, 2014 letter from Thomas Howard, the water board executive director.

As part of an ongoing lawsuit filed by more than 800 property owners over the basin in response to the 2013 offset ordinance, a court ruled the basin was not in overdraft nor had it been in overdraft in more than approximately 40 years,

After the board voted to end the planting ordinance, Gibson made a motion to look into allowing farmers who are currently growing to pull out their crops while retaining their water rights, which could allow the sale of those water rights to the small farmers who quit growing during the previous drought.

The board then voted 3-2 in favor of Gibson’s motion with supervisors Arnold and John Peschong dissenting.

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Three supervisors, representing districts that do not include the North County/Paso region, vote for the sale of water rights in that region. There it is: Gibson doing the bidding of Stewart and Lynda Resnick. Gibson is their shill, and his pockets are filled with their payoffs.

All property owners “must”, by law, protect their water rights either by their historic use or a legal entanglement. County government can do anything they want if private property owners let them. Property owners who do not protect their (paid for and taxed) rights can be judged as negligent thence perfecting someone else’s claim to a prescriptive right. The City of Paso Robles has already syphoned and perfected a small bucket of their neighbors water through this process. NEVER FORGET that all resources can equate to a cash cow for a private or public entity that owns it or has the “funding to prevail” at taking it. Also, NEVER ALLOW A PUBLIC ELECTION, that is for the taking of private resources, as they are private and must be purchased from the willing seller. Equate this to having an election for taking of your bank account, the use of your kitchen or god knows what else?

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I kind of like having food to eat…

They continue to drive the nails into the coffins of small farming families. We will take our families elsewhere and our hard working ethics as well. Our land, our water, our rights.

I don’t consider vineyards as farmers and you are letting them put in new vineyards on the West side of Paso and they will soon drain that water supply also. Also no mention of the hundreds of people who depended on well water for their home and they had to redrill them at thousands of dollar cost and my view due to the vineyards pumping out more water than is going into the basin.If you leave it to government you know it will go south in a hurry

This isn’t just about grapes. Hay farmers and other growers will be negatively affected if they can’t use their water. Grapes are the #2 agriculture commodity in California. Bringing to the economy more than 5 billion dollars each year. The people want grapes and it shows. To say that vineyards aren’t farmers isn’t correct. Many of your friends and family wouldn’t have a job if it wasn’t for grapes. This is about your water rights, not your crop.

It’s about grapes grown by big corporations. Hay farmers usually are dry farmed where they do not irrigate. It may bring Billions to economy but do you give the $20,000 or so to drill a new well to the people that are on fixed income and need it for their survival. NO !! Most of the jobs provided by these ” grape farms ” are paying minimum wages if that.

“Based off of newspaper clips”. Keep believing the Tribune if you must. There are far more small family farms growing grapes than there are big corps, especially in Paso. Most hay farmers are dry farmed but not all, especially in drought years. What about all the food besides grapes that are farmed? No water for them either if you have it your way. I guess my family shouldn’t try to provide for themselves off of our few acres of land and just rely on the gov to support us and do what’s best for our resources/rights. More checks, please. Name one thing that they excel at and don’t over regulate? Please take that mentality back to LA or SF. We don’t want more regulations.

Wells go dry as they have for centuries. I shouldn’t stop feeding my family because you can’t afford to live where you do. Turn my small amount of water usage off because of you? It’s the large corps who are using their water in excess, stop them, not mom and pops. I want my two small children to be able to farm our land. The courts agreed that the basin is not in overdraft and never was. 800 small families brought this case to court, not the big corps.

The vineyard workers that I know earn over $20/hr so please stop lying to the public.

Small farmers miss the Country that they grew up in. Our land, our water, our rights.

justadad I guess I wasn’t clear on my water issue or don’t understand what the supervisors are really doing as I’m sure they don’t either. I want all the small farmers to have free access to water for their crops I was referring to all the miles of grape vineyards that the small farmer doesn’t own but the big Corps do and when you see a 10 in water line coming out of the ground going to a pump that is the size of a small car and dims the lights around it when it starts that’s what I was referring too when I said they will pump the west side down and the homeowners with wells will be paying thousands for a new one Money most can’t afford