Recent legislation signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown will change the way groundwater is managed throughout the state. It mandates that all high- and medium-priority basins are managed in order to make them sustainable. The Paso Robles Basin has been designated as high priority.
What then does this legislation, known as Pavley-Dickinson, mean to us? First, our basin must be managed by an agency that will require well extractions be balanced with recharge. To achieve this, the designated agency can mandate meters and impose extraction fees. Pumping limits can be imposed if additional water sources or natural recharge are not sufficient. Water rights are protected, but the amount extracted under these rights may be regulated so water will be there when we turn on our pumps. The state desires local agencies adopt these new measures. Cities and other water agencies in the basin must cooperate with each other. If not, the state can intervene.
No matter which way you look at it, regulation of our groundwater is coming. If you own property here you have two options: form a water district or continue to allow the Board of Supervisors through the Flood Control District (FCD) to control it. Whether it is the FCD or a water district, both will have these new powers and authority available to them. The question then becomes what agency should be in charge and who gets to decide how these new laws are implemented?
Presently, the FCD not only oversees the basin, but it must handle the rest of the county’s surface and groundwater needs. Managing the FCD is just one of many tasks for the supervisors. The county is not staffed nor is it funded to meet these new requirements. Therefore, it is a myth to think the FCD is the “free” option, as Pavley-Dickinson allows the FCD to pass these compliance costs on to us. However, here is the bigger issue — only two of the five supervisors represent the basin’s property owners. Therefore, keeping the FCD as the managing agency will always leave us in the North County in the minority. The majority of the supervisors have repeatedly said the FCD is not the answer and support the formation of a water district. Why then would we leave control of the basin with the county?
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The choice of forming a water district affords us some unique advantages. To serve on the water district board of directors, you must own property or be a registered voter in the basin. And you must live here as well.
Directors will be our neighbors elected by us to represent the unique interests of rural residents, small ranches, vineyard owners and the other diverse agricultural interests in the North County. We will hold them accountable to sensibly implement these new laws. They will have skin in the game as the decisions they make will not only affect us but will apply to them and their wells, too. This gets us all as close to the decision-making process about our water as can be.
It is also reasonable to assume that a district will be more efficient and less costly as its sole mission is to manage the basin’s water resources. It will not be burdened with other county bureaucratic endeavors.
The days of being able to pump as much as we want whenever we want are coming to an end. Doing nothing brings in the state and who wants that? Our basin will be managed by someone. Let’s trust each other and come together so control of our groundwater is here in the North County where it belongs.