Keep momentum going on water district creation

Finally, the cloud of doom hanging over the proposed management district for the Paso Robles groundwater basin has dissipated.

It’s now imperative to move the process forward. Landowners within the boundaries of the proposed district must be given the opportunity to vote as soon as possible, because until a permanent, comprehensive management plan is in place, the basin will continue to be at risk.

First, though, there’s a lengthy process that must be followed before the district can be put to a vote.

In order to advance to that critical step:

(1) We urge that Board of Supervisors support and the state Legislature approve the latest iteration of the bill that would permit the creation of a hybrid water district — one that would allow some directors to be elected by registered voters and others by landowner groups.

(2) We urge that following passage of the bill, a petition to create the district be submitted to the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) as soon as possible. The latest version of the bill allows either 10 percent of landowners in the proposed district or the Board of Supervisors to petition LAFCO. Either method is fine with us, though it may be more expeditious for the Board of Supervisors to petition at the first opportunity. The petitioner also is required to pay for a required study — the figure $100,000 has been mentioned, though we can’t vouch for its accuracy. Again, in the interest of expediency, we would support the county advancing those funds.

(3) We recognize that the study required by LAFCO will take time. It will include a look not only at the proposed hybrid district, but also at alternatives, plus an examination of costs and how they can be equitably spread, and at the powers the district should be allowed to exercise. That said, we strongly encourage LAFCO to put the item on its agenda as quickly as possible.

We cannot stress enough that it’s important to move with a sense of urgency.

Consider: It’s been almost one year since the adoption of an emergency ordinance to protect the Paso Robles groundwater basin, and in that time, the pace of planting in the basin hasn’t slowed as much as some had hoped.

Exceptions to a partial moratorium have been allowed for plantings that were already in the pipeline, under the principle that landowners who had made a substantial investment should not be penalized.

According to a July presentation to the Board of Supervisors, 27 applications for exemptions, totaling 1,853 acres, have been approved. Of those, the vast majority — 1,712 acres — were for vineyards.

At that same meeting, Supervisor Adam Hill posed this question: “Are we going to do something to address the health of the basin? We haven’t stopped the pumping on the basin at all.”

We share his sense of frustration.

Political bickering — along with the head-in-the-sand insistence by some leaders that the problem isn’t so bad after all — have threatened to hijack progress.

On top of that, a water rights lawsuit looms.

Yet progress toward creation of a management district — while slow at times — has been made, and with the most recent compromise in the Legislature, we believe it can continue.

We look to the state Legislature, the Board of Supervisors and LAFCO to keep the momentum going.

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