Over the Hill

Paso Robles water basin vote reveals a troubling trend

I was disappointed this week by the voters’ rejection of the proposed Paso Robles Basin Water District. Property owners voted 74 percent to 26 percent against forming the district. And the district’s registered voters voted 78 percent to 22 percent against a parcel tax to fund the district.

It was a crushing defeat for what I believed was a sensible, local way to deal with the basin’s declining water levels. But what disappointed me even more was the low voter participation.

Ballots were mailed to all the district’s registered voters and property owners. But only 47 percent of the registered voters and 51 percent of the property owners returned their completed ballots, according to preliminary results Tuesday.

That’s a troubling voter participation rate. I wonder whether it’s another sign of the decline of American democracy. How can we have a democracy if people aren’t interested in voting? Especially voting on something as close to home and as vital for life as their water supply?

I’ll admit this election involved a complicated ballot with a number of issues. I admit one part of it confused me. But we citizens of a republic have the responsibility and the right to question our local officials, elected or otherwise, and to request explanations. It may also help us get better answers if we organize with neighbors and friends. Don’t give up.

Being the citizen of a republic, state, county or city isn’t the same as just being the paying guest at a vacation resort. We own our governments. We pay for their upkeep and management. It’s just common sense that we should become informed and vote.

I don’t know what’s going to happen next to the shrinking Paso Robles groundwater basin. Some county supervisors recently told The Tribune that they aren’t interested in having the county manage it.

The state could manage the basin under the new state Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. It has already declared the Paso Robles groundwater basin to be in critical overdraft. I have to assume the state would charge the basin’s landowners whatever management fees it deems appropriate.

I don’t live in the proposed Paso Robles Basin Water District. But I do live in the city of Paso Robles, which is also in the Paso Robles basin. Our city must also comply with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

And our city charges us residents for everything it does to comply with state law. Our water and sewer bills increase regularly. Our city rebuilt its sewage treatment plant. It will also soon build a plant to treat sewer water for irrigation use. Paso Robles buys and treats Nacimiento pipeline water and pays part of the pipeline construction costs.

Water is getting expensive, but we can’t live without it.

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.