Opinion » Shredder

Water wars!


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As Mark Twain said, "Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting," and the various participants in the ongoing Paso Robles Water Basin fight ought to think about gathering 'round the same table, cracking open a bottle of Jack Daniels' Old No. 7, and seeing if they can reach a consensus before the state of California steps in and decides what's best for them.

If you haven't been following along at home, water's mighty scarce up in the North County's 780-square-mile, much-depleted aquifer. Maybe it's because Paso Robles' population grew from 19,500 people in 1990 to 32,000 by 2018, or maybe it's because grape crops grew from 8,150 acres to 42,855 acres in the same time frame. Oh, who am I kidding? Of course it's because of the grapes! That's 525 percent more thirsty, thirsty grapes. Oh my! But let's not forget our eight-year drought that supposedly ended earlier this year ... not.

In 2013, this people-grapes-drought trifecta led the SLO County Board of Supervisors to place a moratorium on new irrigation, but that didn't work. (No surprise there!)

Then, the state passed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), which requires the county to figure out how to stop over-pumping that basin.

Then, shenanigans ensued, including a county supervisors' vote to exclude the Estrella-El Pomar-Creston (EPC) Water District from a seat at the SGMA table. Recently, the California State Board of Food and Agriculture chided the county, suggesting that its SGMA committee should be seeking more input from local ag interests like EPC.

Then, 1st District Supe John Peschong and 4th District Supe Debbie Arnold had to defend their decision to exclude EPC, citing low "public trust" and the "scary" prospect of letting commercial ag have too much influence.

Then, the EPC shot back saying the state's letter was proof that excluding them was a "bad decision."

Whew. I need a drink, anyone else?

I'm probably skipping over a bunch more shenanigans, but who cares? The point is this is a big fat mess, and time is limited. Shouldn't all the stakeholders have a seat at the table? Shouldn't they all have a chance to offer their biased input, air their NIMBY grievances, and come to some kind of unfulfilling compromise?

That's democracy at it's finest, everyone.

The bottom line is there's not enough water up there to satisfy the needs of everyone. There simply isn't. If there's a solution that doesn't leave every single stakeholder clasping their chapped hide, the solution won't be fair. As Mark Twain also said, "The secret of getting ahead is getting started." I suggest all stakeholders put down their pitchforks, pick up their whiskey glasses, and toast to an imperfect, ass-chapping solution everyone can be unhappy with.

You know who else is fighting about water, or at least how to deal with poopy water? You guessed it! Morro Bay! Holy hell. They fought about locations for this state-mandated new wastewater facility for years—and now that the city is actually moving forward with something, a handful of citizens who formed into groups of acronyms still just won't quit.

In one corner, we've got CAL, or the Citizens for "Affordable" Living, who's name doesn't even make sense. They think that further delaying the already costly project will make it cheaper (fat chance!). They argue the problem is the South Bay Boulevard site, which they say is too expensive and will end up polluting the estuary. Plus they say the city gave a "sweetheart" deal to Tri-W Corporation to build the sewer and develop the accompanying property around it.

Then there's HFEJ, or Home Front Environmental Justice, another aptly named opponent to the project. Uh, hey guys? The California Coastal Commission said the current plant needed to go because of environmental concerns.

Anyway, HFEJ got real butt-hurt when New Times published the city's position: "Slowing down the project or changing its location could also jeopardize millions of dollars in federal and state funding. Morro Bay's current sewage plant doesn't comply with state requirements, and the Regional Water Quality Control Board mandated the city to construct a new wastewater treatment facility at an inland location by 2023. If the city doesn't meet that deadline, the agency could fine Morro Bay $50,000 per month."

"For the record," said HFEJ's Marla Jo Sadowski, "I do not concur with the representation made in it."

Oh no! Should we run a retraction? Really? Which part and why? Won't changing locations and starting from square one require new plans and environmental impact reports? Don't federal and state grants come with a time limit? Didn't the state's Regional Water Quality Control Board flat-out say get this built by 2023 or else cha-ching?

I love a grassroots movement as much as the next shredder, but at some point you have to stop whining and face the fact that this has to happen. Starting over—Again!—under the guise of "saving" money will actually cost more. Morro Bay's foot-dragging already proved this.

The site for the new plant is settled and was approved by the damn California Coastal Commission, people! And they don't really approve much of anything.

Don't forget, everybody poops. Even grassroots activists. Δ

The Shredder doesn't poop because it's a machine! #skynetrules. Send ideas and comments to shredder@newtimesslo.com.



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