Those in opposition to the proposed Paso Robles groundwater basin water district are trying to scare landowners into thinking that water can be exported by private individuals or agencies and there isn’t a thing we could do about it. This is rubbish.
To start, the proposed water district is prevented, as a condition of its formation, from having any power to export water. It clearly states on the Measure B-16 ballot: “If formed the District shall be prohibited from exporting, transferring, or moving groundwater underlying the District (including groundwater pumped into an above-ground storage facility) to areas outside of the District’s boundaries.” In layman’s terms, it means that any water already in the basin cannot leave the basin and any water brought in from outside the basin cannot leave the basin.
Further, the county has a strict non-export ordinance (Ordinance No. 3295) that specifically prohibits export of any water if such an act would have an adverse impact to the basin, such as causing aquifer levels to drop or disrupting the flow of neighboring wells. Even the county is not exempt from its own permitting process. While anyone could apply for such a permit, there is no way it would see the light of day for these reasons alone.
If this weren’t enough, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) modified the State Water Code (10721(v) and 10721(x) ) to add that any action taken by a basin management agency cannot result in any “undesirable results,” which include a chronic lowering of groundwater levels or significant and unreasonable reduction of groundwater storage. The Paso Robles basin has been declared as one of 21 critically overdrafted basins by the state, which means any attempt to even think of exporting water would likely have an undesirable result.
One also has to look at the impracticality of any such far-fetched scheme. Anyone attempting to extract water from his or her well with the intent to use it for any reason other than for his or her reasonable and beneficial use would be in violation of the state constitution (Article X, Section 2). Water taken out of the basin would be an appropriation and junior to the water rights of every overlying water user. Any public agency and private landowner could and would take legal action to stop them. And how would this water be transported anywhere without first obtaining permit authority from county agencies and easements from hundreds of private landowners?
Water banking has also become a frequently used scare tactic of late.
To begin with, the Paso Robles basin is considered a poor candidate for banking water as listed in the UC Davis’ Soil Agricultural Groundwater Banking Index. Rather, water brought into the basin would be used to raise well levels by increasing the flow of our rivers and streams so it can percolate down into the aquifer. It would not be injected down any public or private wells. In any event, no private individual would have the ability to bring in thousands of acre-feet to pump into the aquifer as no infrastructure exists for such purpose. Only the agency that has management authority could propose such a project, which would have to be approved by the hundreds of landowners who would benefit; it still would be subject to the export prohibition.
Exporting water is simply infeasible. It is not supported by any candidate for the district board, each of whom would immediately take action to prevent this from happening. It’s time we stopped this foolishness and begin the process of taking responsibility for managing our own basin. I urge you to vote “yes” on Measures A and B.
Robert Brown, who lives in Paso Robles, was chairman of San Luis Obispo County’s Paso Robles Groundwater Basin Advisory Committee’s management subcommittee who studied and reported extensively on the subject of water export. He is also a board member of the Paso Robles Agricultural Alliance for Groundwater Solutions.