Survey shows support for Paso Robles groundwater district

A vineyard east of Paso Robles near Highway 46 begins to leaf out as unirrigated hillsides dry out in April.
A vineyard east of Paso Robles near Highway 46 begins to leaf out as unirrigated hillsides dry out in April. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

A group advocating for a locally controlled management district for the Paso Robles groundwater basin has released results of a survey that indicates 70 percent support for such a district among property owners in the basin.

The group, called Citizens Advocating for Local Management of the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin (CALM), said a survey of 10 questions was emailed to more than 2,000 property owners in the basin and 231 responded.

One of the questions asked property owners whether they would prefer a water district managed by the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors or a locally managed water district. Seventy percent said they preferred a locally managed district with 47 percent strongly agreeing with the local management option.

The group was motivated to do the survey when a bill was signed into law at the beginning of the year that requires management districts to be formed for all troubled water basins, including Paso’s. If a local district is not formed, the county or state must step in to manage it.

“While we are encouraged by the results, we feel there is still a lot of work to do to educate landowners on why local control of our groundwater is better than allowing the county or state to manage the resource for us,” said Randy Diffenbaugh, a Paso Robles farmer who is a member of the CALM steering committee.

The San Luis Obispo County Local Agency Formation Commission is processing an application by the county to form a local water district with a board of directors composed of a combination of property owners of various acreages and at-large members. The commission has scheduled public hearings on the application for Aug. 20 in Paso Robles and Sept. 17 in San Luis Obispo.

The 10-question survey was e-mailed to landowners May 28, and responses were due June 15. The 2,000 landowners were taken from county assessor rolls and also included people who signed up at informational meetings or on the group’s website.

The group was hoping to get more than 231 responses but is confident that the sampling was large enough to reflect the feelings of the population sampled, said Hilary Graves, a Creston rancher and vintner who is also a member of the group’s steering committee.

“We did this survey as a starting point to get an idea of support for a local district,” she said. “We recognize that it has its limitations in that many landowners could not be contacted.”

People interested in supporting the group’s effort can do so by visiting the website at www.calmthebasin.org. The group expects to disband once a water district is formed.

The other members of the steering committee are all Paso Robles residents. They are Larry Werner, Bill Stansbury, Bill Spencer and Michael Baugh.