Basin management plan deserves leaders’ support

Jerry Reaugh is chairman of Paso Robles Agricultural Alliance for Groundwater Solutions.
Jerry Reaugh is chairman of Paso Robles Agricultural Alliance for Groundwater Solutions. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

They started on opposite sides of the fence, but now two groups of North County landowners — one representing small property owners and the other large growers — have compromised on a plan for a management district for the Paso Robles groundwater basin.

That’s a significant achievement, and we urge the Board of Supervisors to support their plan.

The district would be funded by fees levied on property. It would have the power to manage and balance the basin, which could include regulating pumping and metering wells; offering incentives for water conservation efforts; and importing supplemental water.

While there’s been general agreement among basin property owners that some form of district is necessary, there’s been a split over how the board should be elected. Some have favored the one-person-one-vote approach, while others say the large property owners — who will be paying more to finance district operations — should have more of a voice in running the district.

We believe the two groups — Pro Water Equity, which represents the small landowners, and the Paso Robles Agricultural Alliance for Groundwater Solutions — found an elegant way to split the difference. In a nutshell, they’re proposing that some directors be elected by popular vote and others by property owners.

Under the plan — which still requires several steps for approval, including passage of special state legislation — there would be nine seats on the water district’s board of directors. Three would be elected by registered voters living within the district. (The district would take in the rural areas of the basin only, which excludes the cities of Paso Robles and Atascadero and the communities of Shandon, Templeton and San Miguel.)

The remaining six directors would be elected by property owners: Two by small landowners who own less than 40 acres; two by medium-sized landowners with 40 and 400 acres; and two by the largest landholders who own 400 acres or more.

Leaders from Pro Water Equity and PRAAGS believe this makeup will prevent any one group from dominating the board.

Not everyone agrees; a few members of Pro Water Equity have resigned from the group because they don’t believe that all residents of the basin will be adequately represented.

Ideally, everyone would have walked away from the table satisfied, but that’s never going to happen, not with this plan or any other.

This particular solution is one that a majority on both sides appear to support, and may indeed be the only way to move the district forward.

Given the critical need to put a long-term basin management plan in place, we believe this is a workable solution. We strongly urge the Board of Supervisors to sign off on the plan, and Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian to move it forward by sponsoring legislation needed to create the district.