Paso Robles Agricultural Alliance for Groundwater Solutions (PRAAGS) and PRO Water Equity (PWE) chose the word “belligerent” in a recent Viewpoint (Tribune, Feb. 16) to describe the efforts of our Protect Our Water Rights (POWR) group. This is an appropriate choice of words as “belligerent” means “having a war-like attitude.” POWR is defending all of North County by protecting our individual property rights. We are fired up because we are under attack; we are being asked to trust those who are attempting to create a water district in order to export our water to Kern and make us pay for it. Call me belligerent, but I will not stand by and watch this happen without a fight. PRAAGS/PWE argues that POWR is not “negotiating.” This is not about negotiating; the real issue is that PRAAGS/PWE has a fundamentally different idea of basin management than POWR. For example, one of their "solutions" is to create an export district that takes away landowner rights and exports our water. This “solution” is not in the basin's best interest, so there really is nothing to “negotiate." Thursday I spoke to the San Luis Obispo County Cattlemen’s association. Steve Sinton, PRAAGS board member and water attorney, also spoke. He stated that PRAAGS/PWE is “not interested in banking” but he said they are interested in “exporting surplus water, from the Paso Robles basin to the Kern Water Bank, to store for use in our basin during droughts." On Tuesday Jerry Reaugh said, “No export - it’s a silly conspiracy theory”; two days later Steve Sinton said, “Export and store in Kern.” PRAAGS will creatively argue that it is somehow in North County’s best interest to “store” our water in Kern. Strong evidence points to the contrary! Kern County has systematically created its own disaster area by mismanaging its own water source. Kern has allowed private entrepreneurs to profit by selling “unregulated” allocations of State Water Project water that they “banked” in their basin. Their water basin is being destroyed. One such entity that “banks” State Water Project allocations in Kern County is Eastern Municipal Water District. Kern County is in such a dire crisis right now that an acre foot of water was auctioned off last week for over $1,300! Let’s be logical, do we really want Kern County storing any of our water when it cannot even seem to manage its own? I don’t think so! Steve Sinton failed to tell the Cattlemen that under California water law any “surplus”
water is for the purveyors in the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin. The PRAAGS proposal turns California law upside down. A purveyor’s right to “surplus” water is based on length of time that the purveyor has been pumping – therefore the city of Paso Robles has a higher priority of right to any “surplus” water in the basin than any newly formed district. The proposed district would have the absolute lowest priority of water rights of any entity in North County and would possess all the powers given districts by state law. If this district forms it will be able to “export” water from our basin thereby harming everyone in North County who relies upon the basin. Do we want the lowest water right holder having the ability to “export” our water to Kern? I don’t think so!
Mr. Wayne Lemieux, who coincidentally also represents Eastern Municipal Water District, sent out an email statement trying to dissuade property owners above the Paso basin from protecting their water rights. He stated that the overliers in Santa Maria who fought for their water rights "lost." This is not true. I have spent countless hours visiting with landowners who were a part of the Santa Maria adjudication and they had their water rights affirmed by the court. My question is why Mr. Lemieux, who represents the interests of Eastern Municipal Water District, trying to dissuade overlying landowners from protecting their rights? What interest does Eastern Municipal have in our basin?
Basin management by adjudication is the only “solution” for our basin. Take, for example, the Santa Maria basin. It is managed by the court and is healthy! On the contrary, Kern County is managed by water districts and is a clear showing of district management run amok!
POWR has the highest regard for our beautiful communities in the North County as well as all landowners over the basin. We have the health of the Paso Robles Groundwater basin and protecting our property rights as our highest goal. Adjudication is the proper tool to protect our basin and our rights! Even PRO Water Equity was founded with that course of action as the best management too. I’ve met hundreds of like-minded people over the last months and I’ve come to the conclusion that being belligerent is necessary to protect our basin. Thanks PRAAGS/PWE, you hit the nail on the head!
Cindy Steinbeck, a fifth-generation landowner, is president of Steinbeck Vineyards & Winery in Paso Robles, is a founding member of the Protect Our Water Rights group (POWR) which filed Quiet Title in November.