Laurie Gage’s fact-based analysis, which exposed the fallacy that adjudicated basins are better managed, obviously struck a nerve with the litigants who have filed the Quiet Title lawsuit. While they are oblivious to the fact that many believe they possess a selfish sense of entitlement by being more concerned about their rights than their sense of community, they repeatedly try to convince us of all the grand things a judge will do for the Paso Robles Basin. As a cover for their unpopular approach, they accuse me, my fellow PRAAGS board members, and PRO Water Equity of creating clandestine schemes to sell water for a profit. This is baseless conspiracy theory nonsense, which is not supported by any facts or proof.
I am as concerned as anyone about protecting my water rights, and no one I know wants to lose them. However, the legal landscape for well pumping has changed almost overnight. This comes with the enactment of a new state law called the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, also known as Pavley-Dickinson. This has caught the litigants completely off guard as it was not even in draft form when their lawsuit was filed in 2013. If that weren’t enough, two recent court rulings—one in Siskiyou County and the other in the Russian River Watershed—could become the “canaries in the coal mine” for even more dramatic changes to state water law.
In January of 2015, Pavley-Dickinson requires us to begin managing our basin so that it is sustainable. Waiting years for a court to decide is therefore no longer an option. Another stubborn fact is that under the new law, appropriators and overliers are required to cooperate with each other to manage the basin’s groundwater. If we don’t, the new laws allow the state to intervene and do it for us, well before any court would be able to act. Why then do the litigants have to use the courts to force the cities and service districts to do something they must do anyway under these new laws?
Contrary to what some believe, adjudication does not guarantee a successful outcome. Every time we decide to use the courts, we want justice for us, not the other guy, but it doesn’t always work that way. To get their justice, the litigants must prove that the right to their water has been hindered by the appropriators (the cities, service districts, and the county). If the appropriators can prove they were pumping during times when the wells in the basin were pumping more than was being recharged annually over time, they win. The long-awaited 300-page Paso Basin Groundwater Model Update Draft Report could be another body blow to the litigant’s case. It states that we have been pumping almost 2,500 acre feet more per year out of the basin on average than what is put back in since 1981.
One thing adjudication does do is force the rest of us into their lawsuit whether we like it or not. You will be forced to retain your own lawyer and pay them handsomely to defend yourself. Further, adjudication does nothing to bring in additional sources of water as the court only rules on who gets how much water.
Don’t think for a minute that the court will not be looking closely at these new laws before it rules. Once we demonstrate compliance with Pavley-Dickinson, would not they use our local plan as the template for its decision? After all is said and done, they will have incurred millions in lawyer fees (as will the rest of us), the defendants will have spent millions of our tax dollars, and we will wind up in about the same place a decade or more from now. What then will the litigants have won?
Lastly, the litigants have pitted neighbor against neighbor, and that is just plain wrong. It’s time to stop these silly conspiracy accusations. To anyone who is unsure about any schemes to sell our water, my colleagues and I are more than willing to meet at any time to openly and honestly explain why this cannot and should not happen. In the meantime, I’m hopeful the other 90 plus percent of the landowners will come together and work on local solutions to manage our basin.
Bob Brown lives in Paso Robles. Send comments to the executive editor at email@example.com.