Over the Hill

Groundwater basin residents — not the entire county — should pay management costs

Phil Dirkx
Phil Dirkx jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

I’ve been feeling victimized ever since Saturday when I read something troubling in The Tribune.

It said the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 last week to spend county tax money to plan and regulate portions of six groundwater basins in unincorporated areas that are not represented by other agencies.

That means all of us taxpayers in this county will soon be paying to regulate those six basins. And we’ll still have to pay our own regular water bills, which keep increasing.

Three of the groundwater basins were included in a state list of 21 “critically overdrafted basins.” They are Cuyama Valley, Los Osos Valley and Paso Robles. The other three are San Luis Obispo Valley/Edna Valley, Santa Maria Valley and Atascadero.

The cost estimates for regulating those basins ranged from $1.6 million to $2.2 million per year for the first three years. But there was also some talk about $16.3 million if all six basins were tackled in those first three years.

I live in Paso Robles, where we try to limit our groundwater pumping, so we’ve contracted to receive the largest share of water from the Nacimiento pipeline. Paso Robles is entitled to and pays for 6,488 acre-feet per year of Nacimiento water.

We’re also paying off the cost of our new water-treatment plant. We had to build it to make the Nacimiento water safe to drink, at a price of $11.7 million. Our water rates continue to increase each year.

So who should pay for managing the six groundwater basins in San Luis Obispo County?

Should it be the landowners in the six basins? Or should it be all the taxpayers everywhere in the county? On March 7, by a 3-2 vote, our county supervisors decided all county taxpayers should pay for it, in a process that The Tribune reported may have violated the state’s open-meetings law.

Three county supervisors voted to make county taxpayers responsible for the costs. Those supervisors were Debbie Arnold, Lynn Compton and John Peschong. Bruce Gibson and Adam Hill voted “No.”

Meanwhile, two groups of property owners in the Paso Robles groundwater basin have been working on forming their own independent groundwater basin districts. They were trying to do the right thing. I wonder what they’ll do now.

The managing of the groundwater basins should be paid for by the people who pump water from the basins. And those who pump the most water should pay the most. Any other system seems obviously unfair.

We mustn’t let anyone confuse us into forgetting that.

Phil Dirkx’s column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Paso Robles for more than five decades, and his column appears here every week. Reach Dirkx at 238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.