Viewpoint

Cal Water District should govern Paso basin

July 22, 2013 

Across the coast, the majority of grapes harvested this year have been white varietals, such as these viognier grapes at Sextant in Templeton.

JOE JOHNSTON — jjohnston@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

Water is an essential resource and among the most widely discussed topics, especially in the North County. The Tribune’s extensive coverage followed by recent actions by the Board of Supervisors bring the awareness of this critical issue to the forefront. Residents overlying the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin request leadership, consensus building and practical solutions, which is the core focus of the Paso Robles Agriculture Alliance for Groundwater Solutions (PRAAGS).

PRAAGS core beliefs:

• Water levels are declining in the basin.

• We have a serious problem that needs attention.

• Changes are necessary to preserve and maintain the basin.

• PRAAGS respects the right of all users in the basin.

There is a widespread consensus that the basin now needs a governing water district, but disagreement about the legal type of water district. PRAAGS has taken a leadership role in identifying and pursuing a water district best suited to meet the needs of all basin users, and that is a California Water District.

A Cal Water District provides voting proportional to landownership. Other types of districts provide voting based on one-vote per parcel and, in some cases, no vote if you don’t live on the property.

The Paso Robles Basin is one of the most significant agricultural areas between San Francisco and Los Angeles that does not have a water district in place. Our common goal is to stabilize, preserve and maintain the basin for all users by establishing an effective, responsive district.

There are two issues to the current groundwater situation: 1) drought and emergency action and 2) health of the basin. It’s important to separate them as we look at immediate and long-term solutions.

1. Drought and emergency action

San Luis Obispo County is in a major drought as declared by Gov. Jerry Brown on April 15. Lower rainfall, coupled with existing areas of decline in certain areas of the basin, creates the need for immediate attention .

Many of us enjoy the pleasures of living the rural life. In doing so, we accept the realities and the risks of being dependent on groundwater. Wells need maintenance, repairs and special attention as the environment changes, including dropping pumps and even drilling deeper wells.

Well installation needs special engineering and geology considerations to establish the proper drilldepth into the water-bearing strata. Reasonable science and technical foresight are needed to establish the depth of the well to manage the risks associated with ownership. Wells drilled too shallow to minimize cost of installation do not provide the risk protection against drought.

Ag wells are the same. Well drilling is an expensive undertaking, and we all know that it can only be an interim measure until the basin is stabilized or recovering. The health of the basin is a critical economic factor for ag, and the reason we are taking action.

There are many stories about wells failing and going dry during this drought. We need to cooperate with county Public Works, which is seeking specific information on properties where wells have failed. This information allows Public Works to evaluate locations, understand the depth of the wells and to confirm that the aquifer drop is the reason for failure.

Necessary actions needed to minimize the effects of droughts include:

• Well owners experiencing well failure should contact County Public Works at 805 781-5252. Data will help build understanding about supply issues and determine best solutions for each situation.

• PRAAGS offers support to our neighbors through emergency water supplies. We will provide water at cost to our neighbors in need.

• Establishing a California Water District will create the ability to pursue loans and grants to help those who need to deepen wells but lack funds to pay for it. These resources will expand upon the existing loan programs currently available.

• A California Water District in conjunction most likely with smaller localized improvement districts will assist residential landowners to secure a stable source of water.

• PRAAGS will continue to seek other interim remedies that will enable landowners to bridge the time needed to secure sound permanent groundwater basin solutions.

2. Health of the basin

To preserve the basin, long-term solutions need to be initiated immediately. These solutions require financial resources that will lean heavily on the agricultural community. We must balance preserving the viability of agriculture and our quality of life for overlying landowners: agriculturists, towns and rural residents.

A landowner-supported California Water District establishes the necessary framework and financial resources to provide relief in the short term while developing long-term solutions to sustain the health of the basin. A California Water District will ensure the health of the basin in the following ways:

• A board of directors, concentrating exclusively on water issues, will be responsible for representing all users of the basin.

• The California Water District is the type of district found in most agricultural areas as it is best suited to serve all landowners in rural settings.

• Through assessment of solutions ranging from conservation projects to supplemental water for recharge and direct delivery, a comprehensive plan will be developed.

• This organized approach builds the best vehicle to access loans, grants, cost sharing and other assistance programs for projects large and small.

• This district format has similar powers of other districts under consideration.

PRAAGS is working to preserve and protect the basin. We must balance the economic well-being of our community with the beauty of our rural character, supporting our quality of life. A stable Paso Robles Basin is vital to both homeowners and agriculturists alike.

Jerry Reaugh is chairman of the Paso Robles Agriculture Alliance for Groundwater Solutions. For information, go to http://www.praags.org  .

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