State leaders should pass water district legislation

Achadjian deserves applause for his role in protecting basin

letters@thetribunenews.comFebruary 24, 2014 

Creating another government agency — along with another layer of taxes to fund the agency and its projects — is not a popular concept, but where the Paso Robles groundwater basin crisis is concerned, we believe it’s a necessary step to prevent continued deterioration of one or our county’s most valuable natural resources.

For that reason, we’ve supported creation of a basin management district, and we applaud Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian’s decision to carry special legislation necessary to allow the unique governance structure proposed for the district.

Keep in mind, this is but the first step in a long process. Achadjian correctly points out that concerns about the district and its powers will be the subject of hearings and a vote by the Local Agency Formation Commission, known as LAFCO.

A few words about that government body: It reviews proposals to create, dissolve or merge government agencies, as well as proposed annexations and other boundary changes. The LAFCO board is made up of two county supervisors (currently Frank Mecham and Bruce Gibson); two city council members (Roberta Fonzi of Atascadero and Duane Picanco of Paso Robles) two directors of special districts (Marshall Ochylski, Los Osos Community Services District, and Muril Clift, Cambria Community Services) and one member of the public (Tom Murray, an Arroyo Grande contractor). There also are four alternates who serve when regular members are absent.

Achadjian is correct in pointing out that LAFCO is the right venue for vetting concerns about the proposed water district. Part of that review will include preparation of a study that will look, not only at the district as proposed by Paso Robles Agricultural Alliance for Groundwater Solutions (PRAAGS) and PRO Water Equity, but also at alternatives. Those include a district that would be elected by popular vote, as well as placing control of the basin in the hands of the county Flood Control District.

It also will look at costs, and how they can be equitably spread, and at the powers the district should be allowed to exercise. The LAFCO board could, for example, attach a condition that would forbid the export of water from the basin, which is among the issues opponents have raised.

An attempt to squelch the district at this preliminar y stage ser ves no good purpose. On the contrar y, it only prolongs the uncertainty surrounding a water supply that’s critical to the wellbeing of all residents of the Paso Robles groundwater basin, and to the economy of the county, which depends on the wine industry and other agricultural products from the area.

We strongly urge passage of the special legislation in both the Assembly and state Senate, to clear the way for the next step in the process.

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