Over the Hill

Supervisors’ vote to spread groundwater costs to all taxpayers is financially unfair

From left, San Luis Obispo County Supervisors Adam Hill, Lynn Compton, John Peschong, Debbie Arnold, Bruce Gibson.
From left, San Luis Obispo County Supervisors Adam Hill, Lynn Compton, John Peschong, Debbie Arnold, Bruce Gibson. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 Tuesday to assist some people on the verge of violating a state law.

Those people own property in or near five different groundwater basins in this county.

The state law in question was passed in 2014. It says many groundwater basins must have pumping management plans by June 30. If they miss the deadline, the state may step in and regulate them. Many people who own water-basin property in this county have neglected, forgotten or declined to draw up pumping management plans.

That state law applies to 127 overpumped groundwater basins, including five in this county: the Paso Robles basin and Atascadero sub-basin, the Los Osos Valley basin, the San Luis Obispo/Edna Valley basin, the Cuyama Valley basin and the Santa Maria basin.

What the county supervisors did Tuesday was vote to oversee any unmanaged portions of those groundwater basins so the state won’t step in, at a cost of between $6.1 million and $8.6 million spread across all county taxpayers.

Owners of basin properties who are managed under a “groundwater sustainability agency” will pay additional money on top of that.

That sounds unfair.

This was the second time in three weeks that the supervisors voted 3-2 to approve this very same measure. It wasn’t adequately identified on the first agenda try. People complained they would have attended and opposed it if it had been clearly labeled. So the procedure was repeated.

But the opponents’ testimony this week didn’t deter Supervisors Debbie Arnold, Lynn Compton and John Peschong. Neither did the millions of dollars of expected costs. The three still firmly opposed a state takeover of the county’s unmanaged water basins. Supervisors Bruce Gibson and Adam Hill disagreed.

I think the Board of Supervisors’ decision was wrong.

One thing I question is the confusing, seemingly unequal financial treatment. I wonder whether that will attract lawyers. And now the county will be spending money from all of us to manage the groundwater of select property owners. So, I’m worried that our county taxes will increase or our county services may be reduced or both.

You probably remember some people living in the Paso Robles groundwater basin tried last year to organize a basin self-government. They held an election. It lost in a landslide. I understand, though, that a couple of groups are now working again to form two smaller districts in the basin.

I wish them luck.

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 805-238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.

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