Paso Robles News|Tuesday, December 7, 2021
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Groups agree on details of new water district board 

PRAAGS, PRO Water Equity announce more details on water district governance structure

Paso Robles groundwater basinOn Dec. 5 of last year, PRO Water Equity and PRAAGS announced that they had reached agreement on a basic governance structure they could both support for the proposed Paso Robles Basin Water District. Both organizations sought to find middle ground that could accommodate groundwater needs for both agriculturists and rural homeowners. A major area of concern was how to fairly balance a future board of directors. This week the two groups have announced that they have further refined that management structure to consist of a nine-member board of directors.

“We believe this voting structure would give representation to landowners of all sizes, including agriculturalists and rural residents,” said Dana Merrill, vice chairman of PRAAGS and owner of Mesa Vineyard Management. “Additionally, all eligible resident voters would vote for the three popularly elected members.”

The final agreement proposes a nine-member board, with six members elected by landowners based on acreage and three members elected by popular vote of residents. Landowner representatives would consist of two directors representing landowners of fewer than 40 acres, two directors representing landowners of between 40 and 399 acres and two directors representing those owning 400 acres or more. Future elections would be based on the same parameters.

“A nine-member board of directors and the landowner voting categories were chosen since this structure is more inclusive, allowing everyone’s voice to be heard.” said Sue Luft, president of PRO Water Equity and owner of 10 acres of land overlying the Basin. “Representation would be provided for all residents and landowners within the water district.”

The intent of the water district is to manage and balance the Basin. It would have the ability to obtain supplemental water and implement water management through an AB 3030 management plan.

Development of the district will still require working with San Luis Obispo County’s Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) and special legislation. A revised petition reflecting the proposed changes will be circulated to obtain signatures for holding an election to form a district. If the petition gains the required signatures, LAFCO can review and determine if it will approve the request for an election.

Concurrently, the groups are formalizing legislation to mirror the provisions of the petition.

“We really believe that we should find local solutions managed by local board members in a manner that can avoid litigation as a primary goal,” said Jerry Reaugh, chairman of PRAAGS and owner of Sereno Vista Vineyard. “It is possible to balance water rights with sustainable management and supply options as we move forward.”

The groups envision communicating with all stakeholders in the Basin as well as elected and other government officials in the next month. The LAFCO process will offer additional opportunities for the public to be involved in the discussion and to provide input. The first joint PRAAGS and PRO Water Equity public meeting will take place on Tuesday, Jan. 7 at 10:00 a.m. at Pear Valley Winery, 4900 Union Road, Paso Robles. There will be a brief presentation about the latest agreement and path forward, followed by a question and answer session.

“We are pleased that our respective groups have come together,” said Merrill, “but widespread public consensus is a major goal for both groups.”

“Establishing a community-supported governance structure will put us all on the path to finding solutions needed to ensure the future health of the Basin,” said Laurie Gage, second vice president of PRO Water Equity and owner of 26 acres of land overlying the Basin.

Luft expressed hope that this cooperative effort will lead to progress in balancing the Basin for all users in the near future.

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About the author: Publisher Scott Brennan

Scott Brennan is the publisher of this newspaper and founder of Access Publishing. Follow him on Twitter, LinkedIn, or follow his blog.