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Paso water district bill loses key support 

The two groups that birthed the idea of a water district to manage the ailing Paso Robles groundwater basin have pulled their support for a key bill, kicking further advocacy of the process over to the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors.

Paso Robles Agricultural Alliance for Groundwater Solutions (PRAAGS), a vintner group, and PRO Water Equity, a group of rural residents, joined forces in late 2013 and proposed a management district that spliced representation from both landowners and rural residents into a hybrid body. Because it was a new structure, special legislation was required before the formation process could continue. Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian authored AB 2453 after receiving the green light from the Board of Supervisors. That bill passed the Assembly floor and a couple of Senate committees, but not before getting its share of tacked-on amendments and fundamental language changes.

Locally, the bill has created a flurry of contention among stakeholders over the district formation method. Until recently, the yes-or-no vote for the district’s formation would’ve been based on a per-acreage vote, where those people with the most land get the most votes. After hearing vocal opposition gradually crescendo with no sign of it stopping, the supervisors—who offered tenuous support for the bill as is—made a sharp U-turn on their position on June 17. They offered their conditional support of the amendments to AB 2453 only if the formation vote was also amended. They wanted to see the one-landowner, one-vote scheme in place.

That insistence from the supervisors may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. PRAAGS and PRO Water Equity say they just can’t accept that, along with other amendments made in Sacramento, including the addition of language tailored for potentially more restrictive management.

The groups announced the termination of their support on July 7, each penning letters to Achadjian and Board of Supervisors Chair Bruce Gibson. In a letter to Gibson, who championed the legislation in Sacramento on behalf of the supervisors, PRO Water Equity’s President Sue Luft wrote: “The current bill is very different from the original bill. There are some very good amendments and some that are not appropriate for our situation. Then there are those that were not well thought out, resulting in unintended consequences. This unfortunate turn of events necessitates PRO Water Equity withdrawing its support and sponsorship of AB 2453.”

The two groups have effectively passed the ball over to the supervisors, essentially saying that because the board insisted on a fundamental change to the bill’s nature, they should now take on the task. In a July 7 letter to Gibson, PRAAGS Chairman Jerry Reaugh explained that the bill has grown too complex and strayed from its original purpose, and that the county—rather than two private citizen groups—is better equipped to take it from here.

Achadjian, who from the onset has only advanced the bill through Sacramento with the support of the supervisors, said that he’ll continue to take direction from the county even though the bill has lost support from PRAAGS and PRO Water Equity.

The supervisors briefly discussed putting this matter on the July 17 agenda, but Supervisors Frank Mecham and Debbie Arnold—whose districts encompass the basin—with the support of Supervisor Adam Hill, opted to work out a game plan with Achadjian before putting the issue back into a public arena.

-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay

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