Group sues over ordinance on Paso Robles groundwater basin

A group of San Luis Obispo County residents has filed a lawsuit against the county and the Board of Supervisors for approving an ordinance intended to help stop the chronic depletion of the North County’s groundwater.

In September, supervisors voted 3-2 to adopt the ordinance that prohibits the creation of new parcels in the Paso Robles groundwater basin and requires that new developments offset whatever water demand they create. The ordinance is estimated to save 350 acre-feet of water over the next 20 years from the basin that safely yields nearly 98,000 acre-feet of water a year. Despite this minimal benefit, a majority of the board said the ordinance was an important first step given the severity of the problem.

The basin’s groundwater, in overdraft, goes to agricultural irrigation, homes, cities and commercial users in Shandon, Creston, Atascadero and Paso Robles.

The lawsuit, filed Oct. 31 by Los Angeles-based law firm Morris Polich & Purdy LLP, says that by signing off on the new regulations, the county bypassed a state law that requires extra review and analysis of certain changes that can affect the environment.

The petitioners also claim that the ordinance is too “vague” and “ambiguous,” according to a news release from the law firm.

“Our challenge is to assure fairness in the process in passing ordinances that effect the environment and the people of the community,” group attorney Steven Hoch said in a statement.

County Counsel Rita Neal declined to comment on the suit, saying she is still in the process of reviewing it.

The group wants the ordinance revoked and any preparation work for it stopped. The petitioners also want the supervisors to consider commissioning a study to review the environmental impacts the ordinance could have on the area. Attorney fees are also being sought.

The suit was filed on behalf of a group of citizens calling themselves the Concerned Landowners in the Paso Robles Basin, an unincorporated association composed of residents and property owners that joined together after the basin issue was brought to the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors. Rob Murray is mentioned in the filing as one of the members, but others are not. It’s not clear how many members there are.

Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune