Hopefully North County groundwater plan won't be hijacked by big money

phild2008@sbcglobal.netAugust 1, 2013 

County Supervisor Frank Mecham of Paso Robles is seldom pessimistic. But recently his words seemed gloomy. He was discussing the current disagreement over how to halt the drop in the water level in the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin.

On June 16 The Tribune quoted him as saying, “I just hope that we are not in the situation where the guy with the most money wins. That would be a very sad situation. Everyone needs to be considered in this whole scheme of things.”

I remembered those words Tuesday as I read a Tribune story headlined, “Vineyard and ag interests push special water district.” Its sub-headline said, “Crowd in Paso is urged to protest water-pumping or land-use ordinances.”

The crowd was in the Paso Robles Inn’s Grand Ballroom. The meeting was called by PRAAGS, which stands for Paso Robles Agricultural Alliance for Groundwater Solutions.

The PRAAGS chairman, Jerry Reaugh, urged everyone present to attend the Aug. 6 County Board of Supervisors meeting. The supervisors are to consider emergency ordinances that could restrict pumping and land use.

The emergency ordinances are proposed as a temporary answer to the dropping water levels in the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin, from which much of the North County pumps its water. Thirty or so homeowners have reported wells going dry. The basin’s water level has dropped 100 feet in places.

PRAAGS considers the proposed emergency ordinances too drastic. Instead it wants something called a California Water District. The board of directors of such a district would be elected by proportional voting, meaning a large landowner’s vote would far outweigh the vote of a homeowner on a couple of acres.

PRAAGS members said they are financially able to create the district. They have already hired a noted engineer and are working with an expert water-district lawyer.

But, not everyone agrees with PRAAGS. A possibly less-affluent group of rural landowners has organized under the name Pro Water Equity. Its treasurer, Jan Seals said, “A water district is needed to manage the basin, but it must represent all landowners, no matter the size of their property.”

Another organization with some recommendations is the blue ribbon steering committee for the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin Management Plan. In May its chairman, Larry Werner told the supervisors what’s needed is a water district with enough teeth to manage the basin’s water use.

So, I second Supervisor Mecham’s words, I too “hope we are not in the situation where the guy with the most money wins.”

Phil Dirkx's column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Paso Robles for more than five decades, and his column appears here every week. Reach Dirkx at 238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.

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