Viewpoints

Don’t paint all Paso Robles growers as Big Grape freeloaders

Dana Merrill owns Pomar Junction Vineyard & Winery and is helping to form the Estrella-El Pomar-Creston water district in the North County. He stands next to one of the wells that irrigates his property in February 2017.
Dana Merrill owns Pomar Junction Vineyard & Winery and is helping to form the Estrella-El Pomar-Creston water district in the North County. He stands next to one of the wells that irrigates his property in February 2017. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Regarding Tom Fulks’ March 25 column (“Even with a do-over of groundwater management vote, Big Grape could come out on top) on the “do-over” of the groundwater management vote at the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors: There is more complexity to the positions of the interest groups Fulks referred to as “soul mates.”

Painting all as “Big Grape” and all as part of a scheme to avoid paying their share is simplistic, unfair and an inaccurate portrayal.

The point that was missed entirely is that the formation effort by the Estrella-El Pomar-Creston water district is a responsible approach by its agricultural landowners to secure a “seat at the table” as one of six prospective groundwater sustainability agencies. The water district’s members are committing their cooperation, energy and financial participation as they pay their own way to comply with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

Painting all as “Big Grape” and all as part of a scheme to avoid paying their share is simplistic, unfair and an inaccurate portrayal.

The Shandon-San Juan district is similarly committed.

We don’t really know what the supervisors specifically voted to fund at this point. However, the six GSA approach to basin compliance is the county’s plan. The current funding proposal seems to be focused on the “white areas,” which happen to include most of those voting against the water district last year. That vote appeared to reflect a negative feeling by some local residents and landowners with regard to paying for SGMA or even a reasonably proportional amount. The folks voting for “no new taxes” want everyone in the county to pay.

Responsible Ag, both small and large, as represented by the two new proposed water districts want to take proportionate responsibility for the basin’s problems and to cooperate and contribute financially. Please don’t paint us as freeloaders. The pro-water district folks have spent the past four years trying to find solutions to the basin’s problems, and we have stepped forward, willing to pay the lion’s share of cost. It has been challenging to find a solution that is broadly accepted, to say the least.

One final thought: Next week at the Local Agency Formation Commission hearing to consider the formation of the Estrella-El Pomar-Creston water district, two of our supervisors who serve on LAFCO will have the opportunity to join in approving formation of the water district.

This will allow landowners in the water district to contribute their funds and resources to the process. It will reduce the financial impact on county citizens while allowing concerned farmers, rural residents and landowners to take responsibility for their share of the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin challenges.

Dana Merrill is chairman of the Estrella-El Pomar-Creston formation committee.

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