Bill to form North County water district passes state Senate

Katcho Achadjian
Katcho Achadjian jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

The California Senate on Wednesday approved by a wide margin a bill that would allow the creation of a water district for the Paso Robles groundwater basin.

By a vote of 29-3, the Senate approved AB 2453 by Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, R-San Luis Obispo. The bill would allow the formation of a Paso Robles water district with a board of directors consisting of a combination of property owners and at-large members.

Now that the bill has been approved in the full Senate, it must return to the Assembly for a concurrence vote. In that vote, the Assembly must agree to the amendments made to the bill in the Senate. The Assembly had passed a much simpler bill in May.

That vote is expected to happen next week, according to Achadjian’s office.

Backers of the bill say they are hopeful the Assembly will approve the Senate version. The Assembly passed the original by a wide margin, noted Sue Luft, president of PRO Water Equity, a North County water group that proposed the bill.

“We don’t have a crystal ball but we are hopeful,” she said.

In introducing the bill to the Senate, Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, said it was the product of a yearlong negotiation between residents and local government.

“Groundwater management needs to happen now,” Monning told his colleagues.

There was no debate or discussion of the bill on the Senate floor before the vote.

The state Legislature has until the end of the month to approve all bills and pass them on to Gov. Jerry Brown. Then Brown has until the end of September to approve or veto the bill.

If signed into law, the bill would allow 10 percent of the property owners in the water basin to petition the San Luis Obispo County Local Agency Formation Commission to begin the process of forming the district. County supervisors could also petition LAFCO to form the district.

Achadjian’s original bill only addressed the governance structure of the water district. It allows a board of directors that consists of six landowners of varying acreages and three at-large residents of the district.

That governance structure remained largely unchanged as the bill made its way through the Legislature. However, the Senate significantly amended the bill to address concerns about how the district would be formed and added specific language about what powers and authorities the district would have.

The most significant change gave authority to form the district to individual basin landowners on a one-landowner, one-vote basis. Originally, that authority was based on acreage owned using a one-acre, one vote formula.

This amendment was made at the request of county supervisors who were concerned that a handful of 30 large landowners in the basin could dominate the formation process. The basin contains about 4,000 landowners.