Citing a need for local control, state Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian said Wednesday he will introduce legislation to help create a water district to manage the Paso Robles groundwater basin.
The announcement came a day after a divided San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to officially support legislation that will allow creation of a water district with a specially modified nine-person board of directors.
“While their decision was not unanimous, the locally elected Board of Supervisors has decided on what they believe is the best course for the Paso Robles groundwater basin,” Achadjian, a San Luis Obispo Republican, said in a statement. “Following yesterday’s vote, I plan to honor their request and will introduce legislation to carry out the board’s decision.”
Achadjian now has until the end of the week to introduce a bill to meet the deadline for this year’s legislative session, even if it is just a placeholder bill, Karen Lange, the county’s legislative advocate in Sacramento, told supervisors Feb. 11. A bill with more specific language to replace the placeholder bill is due in early March.
The Paso Robles groundwater basin is facing a crisis with dropping aquifers and wells going dry. The county has passed an emergency ban on new pumping unless it can be offset by conservation.
Achadjian also announced Wednesday that his legislation will only address the modified governing structure of the proposed water district. Many speakers at Tuesday’s hearings, as well as Supervisor Caren Ray, said the legislation should also include provisions prohibiting the banking and export of water from the basin as well as a “one person, one vote” method for establishing the district rather than a vote based on acreage owned.
Proponents of a district said Tuesday any bill should be as simple and straightforward as possible. Adding extra provisions would reduce the bill’s chances of passage, they argued.
They also said the community’s concerns about water banking and other issues could be addressed by the Local Agency Formation Commission, LAFCO, which will oversee the formation of the district. Achadjian agrees.
“To be created, the water district will still need to go through the established LAFCO process, which will give residents and stakeholders the opportunity to ask questions and voice their concerns,” he said.
Tuesday’s hearing drew more than 30 public speakers, many of whom said they oppose the district as an unnecessary power grab. Achadjian said he heard those concerns but repeated that they will be addressed during the LAFCO process.
If individual communities within the basin do not want to be part of the district, they can petition LAFCO to be excluded, he said. He also encouraged residents of the basin to work together to resolve their differences.
“For my part, I will be guided by our local officials and stand ready to amend my legislation as necessary to reflect local discussions,” Achadjian said. “It is my hope that we can ultimately achieve consensus from all stakeholders on the creation of a new district.”
Supporters of a water district are in the process of submitting an application to the county to form the district. Once the application is accepted, hearings will be held, and opponents will have an opportunity to protest.
If any protest is unsuccessful, three separate votes will be held to form the district, fund it and elect a board of directors. The process could take as little as a year to complete.
On Tuesday, Ray said she voted against supporting the legislation because the supervisors’ resolution did not address the community’s concerns about formation and water banking.
However, she supports the overall idea of forming a water district and told representatives from Achadjian’s office after the meeting that she would not stand in the way of forming a district.
“Ultimately, it’s Katcho’s decision, not mine,” she said Wednesday.
She also said she was under a lot of pressure from other supervisors to vote in favor of the legislation but does not think the board’s 3-2 vote will jeopardize the chances of the bill’s passage.
“I don’t think anybody at the state cares what the vote was,” she said. “I want the public to be comfortable with the process.”