Paso’s hybrid water district deserves vote

Not everyone in the beleaguered Paso Robles groundwater basin supports the formation of a locally controlled “hybrid” water district; some, in fact, are vehemently opposed.

We strongly believe, however, that this elegant compromise deserves to be put to a vote, and we urge the Board of Supervisors to help make that happen today by agreeing to submit an application to establish the district to the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO).

This will not be a final decision — not by a long shot. Rather, the board will simply get the process rolling by petitioning LAFCO.

LAFCO, which includes representatives from the county, the cities, special districts and the public — will review the proposal and can approve, deny or modify it.

If the application is denied, the hybrid district — so called because some of its directors would be elected by landowners and others by registered voters — dies there. If approved, it will be voted up or down by the landowners of the proposed district.

The petition to form a district can be submitted to LAFCO either by the Board of Supervisors or by 10 percent of landowners within the proposed boundaries.

As we’ve said before, we believe it will be more efficient and expeditious for the supervisors to take this key step, especially since no landowner group has stepped up to take on the task.

That’s understandable, since the application process is both complicated and costly. Among other things, it must include proposed boundaries, proposed powers and a plan for financing the new district.

Total cost for the application and supporting studies could run as high as $350,000.

The biggest ticket item — $200,000 — would be to contract for election services, should the proposal go to a vote of landowners. According to a county staff report, the costs could come out of county Flood Control District reserves, though the expenditure could be repaid by assessments if the district is formed.

Whatever the immediate cost, we believe it’s worth it.

The Paso Robles groundwater basin shows no sign of recovery.

According to a newly released study that used computer modeling, over the past several years the amount of water pumped from the basin exceeded the amount returned by an annual average of 2,473 acre feet, and the long-term outlook is even more dire.

Keep in mind, too, that recent passage of the Pavley-Dickinson legislation mandates that basins in overdraft have a groundwater sustainability plan in place by 2020, or the state can step in and impose a plan.

We believe that local control is far preferable — and far less expensive — than state intervention.

We strongly urge the Board of Supervisors to vote today to petition LAFCO to form a locally controlled management district for the Paso Robles basin.