Paso water bank is broke; it’s not a time to splurge

Supervisors must pass urgency ordinance to manage resource

letters@thetribunenews.comAugust 4, 2013 

Dryland farming and ranching have given way to vineyards like this area off Linne Road just outside Paso Robles.

DAVID MIDDLECAMP — dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

Think of the Paso Robles groundwater basin as a bank account.

If you’re consistently withdrawing more than you’re depositing, you don’t suddenly splurge on a Ferrari. (Not if you have any sense, that is.)

The most responsible course of action is to eliminate unnecessary spending while you figure away out of your predicament.

That’s exactly what the Board of Supervisors must do.

It’s imperative for the board to stop additional withdrawals from the basin by ordering a temporary halt to new development — including the planting of new irrigated crops.

Don’t exacerbate the problem by allowing more water to be pumped from the basin when some residents already are trucking in water or paying tens of thousands of dollars to dig deeper wells. (And no, offering those property owners low-interest loans is not a viable solution.)

The board must call a timeout by moving forward with a strong urgency ordinance. That will give all stakeholders the opportunity to develop a permanent ground water management plan, which will almost certainly involve creation of a water district.

Of course, calling for an urgency ordinance is simple. Figuring out the details is, well, the devilish part.

The Board of Supervisors will begin that task Tuesday, when it considers a slew of temporary restrictions suggested by county staff.

Here are the basic prohibitions under discussion:

1. No new or expanded irrigated crops.

2. No conversion of dry farming or grazing land to irrigated crops.

3. No new development that requires a well.

There are several specific measures for implementing these restrictions, each with its own set of options.

For example, if the board decides to prohibit new agricultural ponds, it has various choices. It could:

1. Completely prohibit all new ponds of any size.

2. Allow only those ponds that contain one acre-foot or less of water.

3. Allow only those ponds that contain five acre-feet or less of water.

We aren’t going to weigh in on each and every option, but we do strongly urge the board to avoid weak half-measures and to take an aggressive approach — one that will be most protective of the basin.

If the basin shows signs of recovery, then restrictions could be eased.

We recognize that the board will be under tremendous pressure from both sides; large growers are opposed to land-use restrictions, while the smaller growers and rural residents are calling on the board to act aggressively by adopting an urgency ordinance that will limit pumping.

The issue is a contentious one, and both sides will present strong arguments.

However, we believe it comes down to this: You don’t spend what you don’t have.

We strongly urge the four members of the Board of Supervisors to unite to protect the Paso Robles groundwater basin.

Direct staff to develop a strong urgency ordinance that will temporarily halt new development that would further deplete an irreplaceable resource.

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