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Hundreds show up to voice opinions on water basin at hearing 

LAFCO hearing

Hundreds attended a hearing about the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin District on Thursday night. Photo by Dick Mason.

LAFCO takes public comment on formation of Paso Robles Groundwater Basin District

– More than 500 people packed a Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) hearing on the formation of a water district for the Paso Robles groundwater basin at the Paso Robles Events Center Thursday night. LAFCO includes elected officials from several local municipalities, including Supervisors Frank Mecham and Bruce Gibson, and Atascadero City Councilwoman Roberta Fonzi.

The state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) mandates that areas with critical overdraft do something to address the deficit or the state will step in and manage water use. Paso Robles was recently identified as in critical overdraft in a draft report from the state.

State and county water experts said local residents faced three options. They could form a water district, use the county’s flood control district, which is controlled by the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors, or allow the state to make decisions related to the management of the groundwater basin. After the staff presentations, the board heard more than four hours of public testimony.

LAFCO water board

LAFCO commissioners listen to hours of public testimony.

Speakers for and against forming a water district were evenly divided. Many opponents said they simply did not want government, “telling them what to do with their water.” Others said that the options were limited. Most agreed that local control was best, however, they disagreed how best to administer the local control. The audience cheered loudly for opponents of the district.

Jerry Lohr of J. Lohr Winery told the commission, “We at Lohr strongly support the district. Having been a builder and civil engineer for more than 50 years, I can’t tell you how much we appreciate the patience and the efforts of all of you at LAFCO and those volunteering on the commission in giving the community a chance to do what many other communities have done.”

Rancher Paul Clark said, “Nobody wants another agency or bureaucracy to contend with. We don’t want more regulations. We don’t want more operating costs. Thanks to the California Legislature, we now have no choice. We view the formation of the district as making the best of a bad situation.”

After the meeting Supervisor Frank Mecham told the Paso Robles Daily News, “Tonight was basically oriented to hear from the public. We wanted to hear what people had to say. I tried to keep track of things and it was basically split with those who were in support and those who were not. But I think there needed to be some clarification on the role of LAFCO and I think that was done. I’m pleased with the turn out and the civility. So, we’ll move on to the 17th.”

LAFCO tabled the discussion until Sept. 17. If the local district is formed, they will pass the proposal to the County Board of Supervisors which will schedule an election. The target date for that election is March 8, 2016.

Steve and Jerry Lohr confer as the LAFCO hearing begins it's 5th hour. Crowds began to thin as the night went on.

Steve and Jerry Lohr confer as the LAFCO hearing begins it’s 5th hour. Crowds began to thin as the night went on. Photo by Dick Mason.

 

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