Judge Martin Tangeman issued a tentative ruling a month ago, denying a writ of mandate requested by a group of North County residents called Paso Robles Water Integrity Network that would have invalidated the ordinance.
The ordinance bans any new pumping from the basin unless it is offset by an equal amount of conservation. It lasts two years and will expire on Aug. 26.
In his final ruling, made Monday and received by the county counsel Tuesday, Tangeman said San Luis Obispo County had the authority it needed to pass the two-year ordinance. He cited a 1933 ruling in the water case of Gin S. Chow v. City of Santa Barbara which found that the regulation of groundwater falls within the police powers of a local government like San Luis Obispo County.
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“The conservation of other natural resources is of importance, but the conservation of the waters of the state is of transcendent importance,” the Gin Chow court ruled. “Its waters are the very life blood of its existence.
“The police power is an attribute of sovereignty and is founded on the duty of the state to protect its citizens and provide for the safety, good order and well-being of society.”
On Dec. 8, the parties to the lawsuit made oral arguments in Tangeman’s court. Whitney McDonald, deputy county counsel, cited the county’s police powers as the main reason to uphold the ordinance.
Sophie Treder, the attorney representing the landowners, argued that the ordinance was overbroad and conflicted with state water law that recognizes the right of overlying property owners to pump groundwater as long as it is put to a beneficial use.
Cindy Steinbeck, who leads the property owners suing the county, was not available for comment Wednesday on whether she plans any further appeals or legal action.
County supervisors passed the ordinance after several hearings in which basin residents reported their wells going dry or having to lower their pumps in order to keep the water flowing, leading supervisors to conclude that the basin is in crisis. Recent hydrological analysis of the basin showed that it lost an average of 2,400 acre-feet of water a year from 1981 to 2011.