Letters to the Editor

Demand local control of our groundwater

Paso Robles Agricultural Alliance for Groundwater Solutions (PRAAGS) would like to compliment The Tribune and David Sneed for your efforts to keep the public informed about the important water issues in the North County.

I would like to correct one inaccuracy in David Sneed’s July 26 article. The article says, “That bill (AB 2453) would create a water management district for the Paso Robles basin with an elected board of directors consisting of a mixture of landowners and residents of the basin.” This is not accurate. AB 2453 does not create a water district. Only the voters of the North County will have the responsibility to approve or disapprove the creation of a water district.

PRAAGS and PRO Water Equity proposed AB 2453 with the sole purpose of expanding the representation on the board of directors of a water district. We proposed a “hybrid” board of directors structure to ensure that everyone is represented and no group can take control. We needed “special legislation” (AB 2453) to amend the California Water Code to allow for this hybrid structure.

AB 2453 remains very active in Sacramento. The state Senate will be amending the bill further and considering it for approval in August. PRAAGS looks forward to reviewing the final version of the amended AB 2453, which should be published soon.

If the process of creating a water district moves forward, it will go through the county’s Local Agency Formation Commission process. The LAFCO process is a formal structured process with multiple opportunities for the public to weigh in.

There are six major steps in the LAFCO process:

(1) submission of an application asking LAFCO to consider creation of a water district, (2) gathering and submitting signed petitions to LAFCO, (3) numerous public hearings, (4) the LAFCO commissioners amending the petition where LAFCO thinks it is appropriate, (5) LAFCO voting to approve the creation of a water district and, finally, (6) a public ballot to approve the creation of a water district.

PRAAGS remains committed to our two core beliefs, which are:

A water district with a hybrid board of directors that gives everyone a voice and allows no one to control.

A locally controlled and managed water district.

As David Sneed so accurately points out in his article, there are likely major changes coming from Sacramento this year concerning groundwater. I would encourage all of us who live over the basin or who are dependent on the basin’s health to consider whom they want representing them on water issues.

The choices seem clear to me. First, the state has said it will act when local stakeholders fail to do so. Second, the county controls the basin either directly via the Board of Supervisors or through the flood control district. They are in effect the same, subject to the vote of the supervisors.

To be clear, the flood control district is controlled by county supervisors, who have complete authority over what happens to the Paso Robles groundwater basin. If this is allowed to continue, the two North County supervisors can be outvoted by the other three on key issues. As an example, water could be exported from Creston to Cambria over the objections of the two supervisors who represent us. With our North County supervisors being in the minority, they have no final say. Therefore, we as property owners also have no voice in what happens to our groundwater.

I would encourage our North County supervisors to weigh very carefully whether they want to risk control of our North County water resources to the votes of South County supervisors. This is how it’s been done for decades. Very few have noticed or cared until recently, and this cannot continue, as the crisis in our basin is real. Have we been served well by the current system? Where’s our “seat at the table”? We need to ask for our share of Nacimiento water before it’s all gone.

The best and sensible choice is a locally controlled and managed water district. I would prefer my water board member(s) to be folks I run into at the Friday night football game, or someone I see at Vons or Albertsons, or the Loading Chute. I fear this is our last chance for local control.

Jerry Reaugh is chairman of PRAAGS.