Proposed groundwater district is legal, state attorneys say
State Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian reported recently that his bill, AB 2453, to allow the proposed Paso Robles Basin Water District to move forward has cleared a legal hurdle at the State Capitol.
After initially hearing the state’s Legislative Counsel might have concerns with the proposal, on April 9, Achadjian wrote the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors to say proposed composition of the board of directors of the water district has passed constitutional muster, but is not free from legal challenges.
“With that understanding, I have decided to continue moving forward with my legislation with the knowledge that it is a work-in-progress,” Achadjian wries. “While moving forward with this bill, the powers and duties of the water district that will be established via the LAFCo process need to be spelled out very clearly, prior to its hearing in the Senate, in order to ensure that this bill successfully reaches the Governor’s desk.
“AB 2453 represents a year-long negotiation between two very different factions of landowners within the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin. While I commend these two groups for coming to an agreement, I am fully aware that others continue to have concerns. Therefore, I am committed to continue working with all parties to get it right. What I cannot and will not do, is give up and allow the management of the Basin to be taken over by the State. Moving forward with AB 2453, while also moving forward with discussions about the formation of a water district, will send a signal to the Governor that we are serious about the health of the basin.
“As we move forward with the discussion, it is important to remember that existing law already allows for the formation of water districts governed by a landowner elected board of directors. The legality of such districts has been confirmed by the courts (see Salyer Land Company v. Tulare Water District on page 7 of the attached opinion) and recent legislative attempts to prohibit landowner voting requirements, such as SB 614 (Walk) have been defeated thanks largely to the efforts of agriculture interests. Existing law also authorizes the creation of districts governed by boards elected by all regjstered voters. What existing law does not provide for is the type of hybrid board that many believe would be appropriate for the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin. AB 2453 simply makes such an alternative available to your local elected officials, who, through the LAFCO process, will have a lengthy process for public input, and will ultimately determine whether or not to form a district and what type of governance structure to adopt.
“From the beginning, I have argued that the management of the basin is a local matter that should be resolved at the local level. My involvement as your state representative is simply to ensure that you, as the locally elected officials, have all the tools necessary to implement a workable management plan for the basin.”
In February, Achadjian introduced legislation to make a minor change in the state water code to permit the structure of directors on the proposed district. State law currently allows districts run by directors elected by popular vote and districts that are run by directors elected by landowners, but not a hybrid of the two.
The proposal for the Paso Robles Basin Water District calls for nine directors: three to be elected by registered voters, two to be elected by landowners with less than 40 acres, two to be elected by landowners with 40 to 400 acres, and two to be elected by landowners with 400 acres or more.
The hybrid board structure was a compromise reached by rural residents, represented by PRO Water Equity and large landowners, represented by the Paso Robles Agricultural Alliance for Groundwater Solutions (PRAAGS). This structure received the endorsements of the San Luis Obispo County Supervisors, the Paso Robles City Council, and State Assemblyman Achadjian.