Viewpoint

Don’t allow lopsided deal on Paso water

December 30, 2013 

The “deal” struck by the Paso Robles Agricultural Alliance for Groundwater Solutions (PRAAGS) — representing the biggest vineyards over the Paso Robles groundwater basin — and PRO Water Equity on electing directors of a California Water District comes down to the same old PRAAGS program of the largest landowners controlling the Paso Robles basin but with a thin veneer of populist appeal.

What PRAAGS and PRO Water Equity cooked up and presented as the voice of the people is about how and who will elect the board of directors of their California Water District.

The majority of directors (four of the seven) are still voted in based on acreage. Right off the top, a small number of landowners gets handed two seats on a seven-member board. Then two more directors are proposed to be elected by the rest of the landowners, but that vote is still weighted by one vote per acre and a plan to institute one vote per dollar of assessed valuation. Are you wondering who will control those seats?

Then, with an offering of “fairness,” the residential overliers (about a population of 20,000), get to vote for three directors.

According to a Public Works assessment of the rural basin, parcels greater than 50 acres account for 86 percent of the land. Basing four seats on acreage hands the basin over to the largest landowners.

Are you wondering what happened to the PRO Water Equity rhetoric about “fair and equitable”? As recently as Aug. 30, PRO Water Equity told The Tribune, “Most importantly, a water district needs to fairly represent all of the landholders who overlie the basin. This could mean one vote per resident or one vote per parcel.”

The argument that the largest landowners should have the most control because they will be paying the most for infrastructure projects doesn’t wash when it comes to a fair and equitable election for the board of directors. The directors will be the ones deciding how the basin will be managed, what projects will be pursued and with what goals. Will we try to live within our water budget and try to protect the businesses that are already here, or will we pursue expensive water importation projects?

If a Proposition 218 vote is needed to pay for any projects, those votes are weighted by law so the ones who benefit the most have the largest say in the vote, and thus the largest landowners have most control over project implementation anyway. But with the PRAAGS/PRO Water Equity deal, the board of directors controlled by the largest landowners will be the ones deciding on both the projects and who pays what, maybe without even a need for a Proposition 218 vote.

A recent court decision in favor of the Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency supported the notion that a 218 vote is not needed for “water services” and lumps a lot of stuff under the category of water services.

We need management to protect the resources, the landowners and the businesses that are here from outside exploitation. We don’t need a California Water District that hands the basin over to a few landowners.

The PRAAGS/PRO Water Equity deal still needs special legislation passed in Sacramento to become a reality.

If PRAAGS and PRO Water Equity don’t speak for you, you still have a chance to be heard by contacting state Sen. Bill Monning (549-3784) and Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian (549-3381).

Tell them you want a better deal. Tell the supervisors you want a better deal. Tell the Local Agency Formation Commission you want a better deal. Stay tuned and pay attention. Once the control of the basin is bartered away, it’s gone forever.

Susan Harvey is the president of North County Watch and a founding member of PRO Water Equity, formerly on the PRO Water policy committee. She resigned her membership on Dec. 1.

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