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Opinion: Adjudication of water basis is best option 

A response to Ms. Gage’s Oct. 19 opinion piece

Cindy Steinbeck
Steinbeck Vineyards & winery

Cindy Steinbeck

Cindy Steinbeck

If you read Ms. Gage’s recent pro AB2453 water district editorial (October 19) you may have been as bemused as I was. In the opinion piece Ms. Gage argues that adjudication is not an appropriate basin management tool. Ms. Gage, recent legislation excludes adjudicated basins from state management and adjudication has been successfully used state-wide for many years in multiple basins. According to Gage an AB2453, an untested, risky water management district, crafted in back room secrecy with broad powers to tax and regulate, with no accountability, is appropriate.

Adjudication is not a mysterious legal process pitting neighbor against neighbor or landowner against municipalities. Adjudication occurs when California groundwater users ask the courts to settle groundwater rights consistent with maintaining the long-term sustainability of the basin. Yes, Ms. Gage, adjudication will entail the use of expert scientific studies to determine the exact boundaries and safe yield of the basin.

The court has an obligation to follow the law. California Constitution Article 10 section 2 protects the basin while at the same time requires the maximum possible use. The long term health of the basin is the key objective. Simply put, property owners can withdraw groundwater for reasonable use as long as they do not damage the basin or harm their neighbors.

We need to remember that the water issues the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin is facing is nothing new to California. After all “whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting” is a well known mantra to even the first residents of the state. In response to these kinds of water problems, the California Constitution was written well over a century ago and case law has evolved over the past 100 years to deal with and settle these issues in a legal and equitable fashion. The law is clear, and legal experts, including Eric Garner legal council for city of Paso Robles, agree that groundwater basin management by adjudication is the highest form of basin management.

Ah, but therein lies the rub, what PRAAGS/PWE (Paso Robles Ag Alliance for Groundwater Solutions/ProWaterEquity), county and municipal pumpers want is not permissible under the current law. Ms. Gage please be honest about the real reason you are not a proponent of adjudication. The truth is that adjudication of the PRGWB (Paso Robles Groundwater Basin) will likely result in the inability for private investors to make money off commercial exploitation of the groundwater. Some of PRAAGS/PWE board members represent private investors.

Ms. Gage correctly points out that even a number of adjudicated basins are on the watch list. Perhaps it has escaped Ms. Gage’s notice, but we are in an unprecedented drought. No basin is exempt from nature. Where I disagree with Ms. Gage is the answer to the question: when we finally emerge from this drought crisis, will our water rights be intact? Ms. Gage and her small coterie apparently don’t care; POWR (Protect Our Water Rights) members are only asking that the law be followed and our rights be upheld in management of the basin.

Finally, I was very surprised to see Ms. Gage in favor of “developing sources of supplemental water.” Supplemental water from the State Water Project is the top source suggested. There is no supplemental water in the state. State water project water is 5 times over-allocated and over-sold. Entering the state water game will hurt landowners, city residents and cities alike. The entities who will benefit by bringing nonexistent “state water” into the PRGWB will be the water brokers who will take “it” out and sell our precious resource elsewhere. Once again Ms. Gage you are showing your hand. Paso Robles voted to stay off state water years ago and I affirm their choice.

Cindy Steinbeck is a fifth generation farmer in Paso Robles. She is a founding member of Protect Our Water Rights, a large group of landowners who have filed a Quiet Title action which has triggered adjudication. They believe that along with the right to use water comes the responsibility to protect our basin. Adjudication is the proper tool.