Farmers fight county for water rights
Paso Robles farmers this week filed two lawsuits against the county to overturn water restrictions it recently imposed.
The lawsuits, filed by two groups of landowners, seek to overturn the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors’ urgency ordinance that was passed Oct. 8 to restrict water use in the Paso Robles groundwater basin. The emergency ordinance was passed after reports of falling water basin levels and wells going dry.
The ordinance prohibits farmers from planting crops requiring new water unless they offset the use somewhere else. It requires new wells to be metered and monitored. It makes vague exceptions for growers with ‘vested rights,’ a concept supervisors were still debating this week. ‘Vested rights’ could allow farmers with a planting in progress prior to the ordinance continue plantings. Vineyard plantings can take up to four years to finish.
A suit filed Monday by the “Paso Robles Water Integrity Network” alleges the county did not have sufficient evidence or follow the California Environmental Quality Act in passing the water ordinance.
A second suit filed by water rights attorney Richard Zimmer on behalf of a similar group called “Protect Our Water Rights” asks to reaffirm the right of property owners to pump water from the basin.
The lawsuit argues it is unlawful to restrict water usage of property owners overlying the groundwater basin while granting superior rights to county, city and municipal water companies.
County grants small farmers exemption
In a victory for small famers, county supervisors on Tuesday exempted them from some ground water rules.
The supervisors voted to exempt growers with few than 20 acres from having to document their ‘vested rights’ with contracts showing preparations for planting prior to the ordinance. The rule would allow them to continue plantings they started before the ordinance was passed in August, 2013.