Supervisors don't take official stance on Paso Robles water district bill

San Luis Obispo County supervisors held a lengthy discussion Tuesday about a bill in the state Legislature to form a Paso Robles groundwater management district but came to no consensus on whether they support it or not.

North County Supervisors Frank Mecham and Debbie Arnold said they would meet with the bill’s author, Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, in the next few days to discuss the bill, including substantial amendments added in state Senate committees that have made it much more complex.

“When do we stop seeing amendments to this bill from the various Senate committees?” Mecham asked.

However, a motion to place on the board’s July 22 agenda a formal discussion of the bill and whether to take an official stance on it failed in a 3-2 vote. This means the fate of the bill continues to be uncertain.

Achadjian said Monday that he will continue to support the bill, amendments and all, until the supervisors tell him not to.

Supervisors Bruce Gibson, Adam Hill and Caren Ray said they wanted to schedule a discussion of the bill in order to give direction to Achadjian.

“We have spent a lot of time on this,” Hill said. “We need to be clear on what we want.”

Mecham and Arnold balked, however. Mecham said he wanted to consult with Achadjian before taking an official stance on the bill.

Arnold said she did not want to get involved in the legislative process in Sacramento. Her main goal had been getting Achadjian to amend the bill last month so that the vote on whether to form the district would be made by all landowners, each getting one vote.

The bill originally called for landowners to have a weighted vote based on the amount of acreage owned.

“I say we step back and let the bill run its course,” she said.

In the end, Hill voted with Mecham and Arnold not to agendize a discussion of the bill. He said he did so in deference to the wishes of the two North County supervisors.

This came a day after the two groups that had originally proposed the bill announced that they no longer supported it because of the extensive amendments.

The groups asked the Board of Supervisors to take a leadership role in the legislative process and any discussion on how the groundwater basin would be managed. Bob Brown, a director of the Paso Robles Agricultural Alliance for Groundwater Solutions, attended the supervisors’ meeting Tuesday and said he was disappointed by their inaction.

PRAAGS, a group of vintners and other irrigated agriculturalists, was an original sponsor of the bill, along with PRO Water Equity.

“This is just another instance of inactivity on the part of our two North County supervisors to step in and take action to manage the basin,” Brown said.

Achadjian’s original three-page bill was passed by the full Assembly in May. When it moved to the Senate, the amendments pushed it to 17 pages.

The revisions added many details about how the water district would be managed, including imposing groundwater extraction charges and requiring meters on wells.

None of these details were in the original bill. Under Achadjian’s original bill, most management issues, including whether groundwater extraction charges would be levied, would have been worked out locally when the district was considered by the Local Agency Formation Commission.

Achadjian’s bill focused on creating a new form of water management district with a hybrid board of directors composed of a mixture of residents, and landowners of varying sized properties.