Advisable or not?



Nothing involving the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin is routine anymore.

Much of the discussions surrounding the sprawling basin—which has seen declining water levels—and all the proposals of what to do about it, have been incredibly complex and at times very controversial. There have been, however, times in the past where—as far as water rights are concerned—routine decisions were made and tenuous agreements struck. But not this time.

At their April 8 meeting, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors was presented with a list of 19 names to be appointed to the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin Advisory Committee, a body that will succeed the now-defunct Paso Robles Groundwater Basin Blue Ribbon Committee. The previous group of stakeholders served as a study group of sorts to look at solutions to the basin’s supply-and-demand gap, which has left both rural residents and members of the wine industry worried for their future.

Before the supervisors could consider the names, consisting of representatives from various stakeholder groups and municipalities, a few usual suspects from one camp challenged the list, saying it was tailored to be business as usual in recent disagreements that have left a community fractured, notably on the formation of a water district that could levee fees and build an infrastructure to deliver supplemental water. Water district proponents say it’s necessary to bring stability to an otherwise shaky future, while opponents of the district worry about the potential for groundwater rights to be stripped.

At issue at the April 8 meeting was how the names were chosen, how public the process was, and who chose them— questions taken up by 5th District Supervisor Debbie Arnold, whose district includes part of the basin along with Supervisor Frank Mecham.

SLO County Public Works told Arnold that the meetings were public, with notices posted, and followed general guidelines in choosing the names, all in accordance with direction previously given by the supervisors.

“In other words, this committee was completely recommended by your staff at Public Works, and we don’t know how that was made,” Arnold said.

Arnold then provided her own list of hopeful appointees; all the names on her list were consistent with the list proposed by staff save for three in the rural residential category, where she had added three names originally listed as “not considered at this time.” Those three people have been critical of a water district and the larger dynamics of all things related to when it comes to basin discussion.

In the end, however, no one supported Arnold’s attempt to tweak the advisory committee, leaving it dead in the water. The supervisors did agree, however, to add two more positions on the list to be appointed by the two districts overlying the basin, directing staff to come back with a revised committee structure.

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

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