CALM, Citizens Advocating Local Management for the Paso Robles groundwater basin, is a group of residents who live over the basin. We want its water to be here for our children and grandchildren. We believe that a calm and reasoned discussion of the management options is preferable to hysteria and conspiracy theories. On Jan. 1 of this year, the California Sustainable Groundwater Management Act became law, and it fundamentally changed the way groundwater is managed throughout the state.
A public Groundwater Sustainability Agency must now be created to assess conditions in the basin and adopt a locally based management plan. We believe a local agency is the best way to provide fair and equitable management of the groundwater basin for all users. We also believe all basin landowners should be informed of their choices.
In May, CALM emailed a 10-question survey to more than 2,000 individual landowners who own property over the basin. A large majority said they were at least somewhat familiar with the basin’s current condition of overdraft, and nearly three-quarters said a locally formed public water district is their preferred management choice.
The sample size gave us a 95 percent confidence level — with a margin of error plus-or-minus 6 percent — that the survey is statistically accurate. All of the data can be viewed on the CALM website, http://www.calmthebasin.org.
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Last year, San Luis Obispo County supervisors sent draft legislation to Sacramento to allow creation of a local water district, as has been done for other basins in the state, customized to solve problems related to our basin’s overdraft. A nine-member board of directors was designed to represent the unique mix of residents and agriculture in the basin and prevent any one group from exercising total control. Five board seats represent residents (both landowners and renters) and small family farmers; two seats represent owners of mid-sized properties; and two seats represent owners of larger land holdings. All board members must live here; nonresidents are not eligible to run for any seats.
The district would be a public agency, subject to the same regulations as any other government body. It is, we think, an exciting solution to a difficult problem.
The county’s Flood Control and Water Conservation District is a second choice. Since 1945, the district has been run by the five county supervisors. Under the flood control district, groundwater management has always been voluntary, halfhearted and ineffective in securing the basin’s sustainability.
The district’s management plan made suggestions, but fell short of asking any extractors — residential, agricultural or municipal — to report their usage, let alone to cut back. Development in the North County continued unabated.
The district board members are professional (paid) politicians, none of whom lives in the proposed district, and all of whom avoid angering donors who contribute money to their campaigns. They focus on hundreds of other issues, from social services and fire protection to labor negotiations and street maintenance.
A much better choice is a local water district, directed by a board, all unpaid, who must live over the basin and will have a single focus: preserving the supply of water for future generations. The county has calculated the cost for either the local district or the Flood Control District is virtually equal.
The third way the basin can be managed, if neither of the above approaches is adopted or if funding is not approved, is to turn control over to the state. This is a poor choice, because local residents would have no input into how their water is managed; the State Water Resources Control Board would make all decisions. It would be more expensive managing the basin from Sacramento, and the state can charge landowners whatever it thinks appropriate without any approval or vote. Not surprisingly, our survey also indicates this is the least preferred option.
Management of the basin by a locally elected board is the most reasonable solution.
Local demand management, local supplemental water, local recycling and water reuse projects — all can be done more sensitively with local control, and it appears that many of our fellow landowners feel the same.
CALM passionately supports the creation of the local water district, and we hope the community continues to coalesce around that choice. Please join us as a supporter in our educational efforts.