4 of 5 supervisors support bill to create North County water district

Supervisor Debbie Arnold discusses the county's emergency ordinance enacted to protect the Paso Robles groundwater basin in November 2013.
Supervisor Debbie Arnold discusses the county's emergency ordinance enacted to protect the Paso Robles groundwater basin in November 2013. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Four of five San Luis Obispo County supervisors have voiced their support for a bill in the California Legislature to allow the formation of a water district for the Paso Robles groundwater basin.

The fifth member of the board, Supervisor Debbie Arnold, is neutral on the bill. This is enough support to warrant it continuing to move through the Legislature, said the bill’s author, Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, R-San Luis Obispo.

“Given the board’s response, I plan on honoring their wishes and will continue to carry this legislation forward,” he said Tuesday. “I am also encouraged by the Paso Robles City Council voting to support this legislation as part of a solution to manage the Paso Robles groundwater basin.”

The bill, AB 2453, would allow a water district to be formed that has a modified board of directors consisting of a mixture of basin landowners and residents. The bill has been heavily amended to include provisions about how the district would be formed and the authorities it would have.

Achadjian had given supervisors until Wednesday to email him whether they wanted him to continue sponsoring the bill. On several previous occasions, supervisors had failed to reach agreement on the bill because of its complexity and concerns about how the district would be formed.

In her letter to Achadjian, Arnold said amendments to the bill so that it now requires a majority of landowners to approve the district’s formation in a popular vote addressed her main concern. She said she is not actively supporting the legislation but has removed her opposition. Arnold’s district includes parts of the Paso Robles basin.

“I am comforted in knowing that should this district be formed, my constituents will have had the opportunity to vote on the matter,” Arnold wrote.

Ten percent of property owners in the basin must petition the San Luis Obispo County Local Agency Formation Commission to start the process of forming the district. Once formed, a majority of landowners must vote to approve officially establishing the district.

The bill is currently in the state Senate. The Senate has until the end of the month to approve the bill. The Assembly must approve amendments to the bill made in the Senate. Gov. Jerry Brown then has until the end of September to sign or veto it.

Achadjian’s bill was first introduced in February in response to concerns about dropping water levels in the Paso Robles basin. Areas east of Paso Robles have seen the aquifer drop by more than 70 feet in the past 17 years.

The intent of the legislation is to create a water district that is managed by residents and landowners in the basin. “This is solid legislation that will best ensure that our local resources remain locally controlled, in the hands of the people directly affected,” said Supervisor Caren Ray in her letter to Achadjian supporting the bill.