Voters and property owners in the sprawling Paso Robles groundwater basin are one step closer to deciding whether the basin will be locally managed and how much it will cost them.
County supervisors Tuesday gave tentative approval to a parcel tax that would provide nearly $1 million for management of the basin. Approval of the tax was the latest in a series of steps the county is taking to form a water management district for the Paso Robles basin, which has seen dropping aquifer levels in recent decades.
However, final approval of the district and the parcel tax will be decided by voters and property owners in the 790-square-mile basin in a series of three votes scheduled for March 8, 2016.
Supervisors Frank Mecham, Bruce Gibson and Adam Hill voted in favor of the tax on Tuesday, while supervisors Debbie Arnold and Lynn Compton opposed it. Mecham, whose district covers much of the basin, said he voted for the tax because it would allow local control of the basin rather than giving oversight to county or state governments.
“I still think that the people who live there should be making those decisions,” he said.
Arnold and Compton said they opposed approving the tax because it would allow the county and the Board of Supervisors, acting as the county Water Conservation and Flood Control District, to use the nearly $1 million to manage the basin if voters approve the parcel tax but not the formation of an independent water management district.
Arnold also said the parcel tax would be too big of a burden for small property owners in the basin. “I think this is pretty onerous stuff,” she said. “I am worried that small farmers could be priced or regulated off their land.”
A series of votes scheduled for March 8 will decide three pivotal questions. Two-thirds of the estimated 7,049 voters in the basin would have to approve the parcel tax for it to take effect. A majority of property owners in the basin also will decide whether to form the water management district. If the district is approved, voters and property owners in the basin would elect the nine-member district board of directors.
The $950,000 needed per year to manage the district would be raised by a tax schedule that is a combination of a per-parcel tax, a per-unit tax based on how each parcel is used and a per-acre tax based on whether the land is irrigated or not. The amount each property owner would pay varies widely.
For example, a rural resident living on 10 acres of non-irrigated land would pay $37.50 a year. But the owner of 100 acres of land with irrigated crops and a variety of homes and commercial buildings would pay $1,825 a year.
Meanwhile, the deadline for establishing a management plan was moved up this week when the state Department of Water Resources added the Paso Robles basin to a list of 21 basins in critical overdraft. That means a sustainable groundwater management plan must be in place for the basin by 2020 rather than 2022, said John Diodati, county Public Works administrator.