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Open letter to county on local water resources 

San Luis Obispo County Water

Open letter to the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors regarding San Luis Obispo County Water

My name is Carolee Krieger and I represent the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN, online at www.c-win.org). We are a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to common sense use of California’s scant water resources. We provide context and clarity on water issues for decision makers at all levels. We have several comments to make on San Luis Obispo County’s water policy:

SLO’s State Water Costs

In 1993, SLO County voters wisely limited their contract for State Water to 4,830 acre feet. They could have opted for more – up to 25,000 acre feet.

Why was this an intelligent move on the part of the electorate? The lion’s share of the cost of state water for SLO and Santa Barbara Counties was in construction of the delivery system. By choosing a small delivery option, SLO limited state water deliveries to 4,830 acre feet. But they also limited the amount of debt county ratepayers are obligated to pay.

Also in 1993, the California Dept. of Water Resources promised 97% delivery to each contract allocation. This year, DWR acknowledged that only 5% of each contract likely will be delivered; for SLO, that means about 241 acre feet. In other words, you are paying for infrastructure designed for deliveries of 4,830 feet, but you will be receiving a wholly inadequate fraction of that amount.

State water, in short, has proved unreliable. It is not needed in wet years and is not available in dry years.

Typically, construction costs associated with state water deliveries have been greatly underestimated. In Santa Barbara County, voters were told that their share of the Coastal Branch would cost about $270 million. In the end, Santa Barbara County is paying $1.76 billion for state water. SLO’s caution two decades ago was well placed.

Paso Robles Groundwater

There is some misunderstanding about the overdraft of the ground water basin of Paso Robles. We would like to call your attention to the implications of declaring a ground water basin in overdraft. Throughout the State, private water entrepreneurs are eyeing ground water basins as proprietary water banks maintained for sale and purchase. In order to have a basin declared a water bank, it must be declared in overdraft. When a private party moves water to the water bank, local users’ rights become murky. Landowners may lose their ground water rights. This would prove catastrophic to farmers in the Paso Robles region.

Two decades ago, Santa Maria was threatened by this same threat. Water purveyors sought to exploit the Santa Maria ground water basin for groundwater banking. The basin was said to be in overdraft. Landowners in the area realized they would lose their water rights if this banking scheme moved forward. In 1997, they sued to adjudicate the basin to prevent it from becoming a water bank. They won their case. Take this as a cautionary tale: You want to make sure your basin is genuinely in overdraft before declaring it so. Beware of management programs that include powers of groundwater replenishment. It’s banking in disguise.

Please visit our website, www.c-win.org, for more information about California water. If we can assist you in any way, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Sincerely,
Carolee Krieger
President and Executive Director California Water Impact Network 808 Romero Canyon Road Santa Barbara, CA 93108 (805) 969-0824

About the author: Scott Brennan

Scott Brennan is the editor and publisher of the Paso Robles Daily News.

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