Letters to the Editor

Could courts manage the Paso Robles groundwater basin effectively?

In recent public presentations, in various letters to the editors of local media, on local radio and during the Water Summit at the Board of Supervisors meeting on Oct. 14, Cindy Steinbeck has consistently said that adjudication is the proper way to manage the Paso Robles groundwater basin. If that is the case, then you could reasonably expect that basins that already have been adjudicated in California would be in a sustainable condition, or on their way to sustainability. The facts show otherwise.

The recently passed Pavley-Dickinson legislation will change groundwater management in California at the most fundamental level — through mandated local management of basins, with those in the most trouble having the earliest deadlines for a sustainability plan. The legislation includes a list of 26 groundwater basins in California that have been adjudicated and are exempt from further management, the idea being they are already being adequately managed by the courts.

A review of these 26 basins shows some interesting results that bring Ms. Steinbeck’s theory of the effectiveness of court management into question. Ten of those 26 basins are labeled as “high-priority” by the Department of Water Resources. This is the most severe level in terms of the lack of health of a basin.

An additional nine of those 26 basins are labeled “medium-priority” by the DWR, one step down from high-priority. It begs the question: If adjudication is the best path to sustainability, why are over 70 percent of adjudicated basins still in the unhealthy medium- or highpriority condition?

Here is the stunner: Eight of the basins that have a High-Priority rating have been adjudicated and managed by the courts for more than 30 years, and they still aren’t in a sustainable state. Mediumand high-priority basins not on the adjudicated list will have stringent management mandates with short time frames for reaching sustainability.

Adjudication is a slow, expensive process that pits neighbor against neighbor. All the money paid out is for experts and attorneys; not one dollar goes to solving the basin’s troubles, planning for the future or investigating and developing sources of supplemental water.

For my money, waiting eight, 10 or 15 years for adjudication to take place, during which time nothing is done to help the health of the basin, means an uncertainty that could stretch over an even longer period if the ineffectiveness of management by the courts in evidence now persists.

The basin can’t wait that long.