OPINION by JIM OLESNANIK
On Oct. 8, I attended a meeting at the Creston Elementary School. The meeting was billed as a “workshop” on “Sustainable Management Criteria” and presented by the Paso Basin Cooperative Committee. The workshop was presented by Derrick Williams, project manager (consultant).
Mr. Williams presented a graph reflecting a continuous decline in the water level of the basin from 1980 thru 2016. In his opinion, this situation was caused by historical and continuing over pumping of the basin.
Mr. Williams was challenged on his use (on the graph) of the term “overdraft” since the responsibility for monitoring and notification of an overdraft is and was that of the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors (BOS)in their roll as Flood Control and Water Conservation District.
In the history of the basin, there was never a declaration of overdraft! Per Mr. Williams the graph was prepared from various studies the BOS had commissioned over time. One has to wonder, if this material is accurate and in the possession of the BOS, why was an overdraft never declared? I believe the answer is because there is not currently, nor has there ever been, an overdraft.
Mr. Williams asked the attendees (this must be the workshop part) at what water level they would like to see the basin. Everyone desires a supply of potable water that they can rely on so it was no surprise that the responses were varied, but were reflective of the stress felt by the rural community which is a direct result of the latest, lengthy drought and the flurry of activity and misinformation surrounding it.
Next, Mr. Williams presented another graph depicting a portion of the basin with a line depicting a desired (goal) water level and another line representing a “not to fall below” water level. The gap between the two lines represented an area of acceptable water levels. Mr. Williams was asked if what he was presenting was achievable. His response was that “it is achievable but not without cost, not necessarily a financial cost, but a cost.”
He never explained what he meant. Throughout the presentation he made reference to reducing pumping but did not offer other mechanisms for achieving rather lofty goals.
Connecting the dots
How is it possible to achieve desired water supplies through reduced pumping alone while, at the same time there exists significant construction of heavy water-consuming projects? My feeling is that it absolutely cannot be achieved by reduced pumping alone.
The state has earmarked $2.7 billion for water storage projects but hasn’t released much, if any, of those funds. It would be interesting to know how much of these funds the county has applied for, how much has been approved and a full description of the proposed use of the funds.
I believe California’s political machinery has already determined exactly what they want to do with the Paso Robles Basin and it has everything to do with the magicians “slight-of-hand” that we were exposed to on Oct. 8. By “slight-of-hand” I mean getting the audience to focus on one thing (ie desired water levels), while keeping us from focusing on the under utilized capacity. The real focus of the county is not on a targeted basin level (that they would like us to identify) but on the space above that target, because the space above the target line is just that….empty space. That “space” can be filled with imported water that can then be sold and exported to the south.
We have been told that water cannot be exported from San Luis Obispo County. While that may currently be true, it can always be changed. Additionally, a significant portion of the basin is located in Monterey County. If water were pumped from the basin in Monterey County it might not run into any restrictions, but would impact the entire basin. On this subject, the BOS recently asked the State Water Resources Control Board for, and received, a basin boundary adjustment shifting a portion of the San Luis County Basin to Monterey County.
As mentioned earlier, Mr. Williams stated that our desired basin water levels are achievable “but not without a cost.” If water is imported to the basin, you will lose your priority rights to the water, as granted by state law. Additionally, the imported water will be surface water without the filtration benefits achieved through percolation. The water will contain run-off from farm lands which could (and would) contain chemicals, fertilizers etc. which will result in the water being unsuitable for many domestic purposes, including drinking and cooking, without costly filtration and continuous testing to insure quality. These costs would obviously be absorbed by the property owners.
Where would the imported water come from? One source and I believe a likely one, is Governor Jerry Brown’s “twin tunnel” project. The goal of this project is to remove water from the Sacramento River, sending it southward through the State Water Pipeline. Since the state has issued very little, if any, of the $2.7 billion earmarked for water storage I believe it’s probable that the state and San Luis Obispo County already know where it will be stored….in the Paso Basin!
To this end, approximately a year and a half ago the city of Shandon hooked up to the State’s Water Pipeline, the purpose of which was to acquire an insignificant amount of water, especially since Shandon had little, if any, water problems during the five-year drought. This hook-up to the pipeline provides the connection to the basin to both import and export water.
We know that during our last drought a number of wealthy people/organizations moved into this area (ie Stewart Resnick, The Limoniera Company and the Harvard Investment Group,etc.), purchased land, drilled numerous and deep wells and laid extensive piping which could accommodate the movement of large volumes of water.
Last year we had a good rainy season causing us to breathe a sigh of relief as to the adequacy of our water supply. However, that rainfall did not result in those who are after control of the Paso Basin, to leave. Why would financially strong and business-wise companies/individuals invest tens of millions of dollars (possibly hundreds of millions) on a venture with only the hope of success? It doesn’t make sense.
What does make sense is a very expensive state plan to move considerable water south knowing full well that tax payers would not approve the tax burden. It would be easier to bring private money with the promise of significant financial gains…..at the expense of local residents, as well as those purchasing the water.
Sounds like a slightly different version of 1995 to me, when the State’s Water Resources Control Board, after spending in excess of $70 million of taxpayer money, gave what is now known as the Kern Water Bank to Stewart Resnick and others. Mr. Resnick has the controlling interest in that water bank and insures that he benefits from that control. Mr. Resnick has established himself in San Luis Obispo County.
It is not out of the realm of possibility that state and local politicians are behind this effort.
In addition to, and maybe because of, those who desire to control our basin we also must contend with local, large property owners (primarily vineyards) who are putting forth efforts to have a significant say in the management of the basin. While it is understandable that business owners would do what is necessary to protect their investment/livelihood it appears to be without regard to the i9mpact, of their efforts, on rural residents and small business owners.