H-PASO ROBLES

Nov 27, 2013 8:39 PM by Cameron Polom, KSBY News

Two lawsuits look to halt north county groundwater emergency ordiance

Two lawsuits filed Monday in San Luis Obispo Superior Court challenge the legality of the emergency ordinance restricting the use of the North County Groundwater Basin. Back in August, San Luis Obispo County supervisors passed the ordinance restricting the planting of new irrigated crops. However, authors of the latest lawsuit say landowners have an inherent right to the water under their land. County supervisors say the lawsuit could push the process into costly litigation. "I am battling this for my son, and my grandson, and for his kids," said Cindy Steinbeck, owner of Steinbeck Vineyards. Steinbeck's family is as rooted in Paso Robles as any grapevine in the region. "Our family has been farming this land in Paso Robles since 1884," said Steinbeck. The vineyard sits on about 600 acres near Highway 46. On Monday, Steinbeck poured herself into a heated battle for critical water rights. Paso Robles Water Integrity Network, a group she's affiliated with, filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the current emergency ordinance. She's also a plaintiff as part of a suit filed by a group called Protect Our Water Rights, fighting for a ruling over quiet title rights. "All we are doing in that lawsuit is asking the courts to say that we have the rights to reasonable use of the water that's underneath our land," said Steinbeck. County Supervisor Bruce Gibson says the lawsuit could push the whole process in the wrong direction. "It takes us away from a cooperative process that was growing, and makes the possibility of adjudication perhaps more likely," said Gibson. Steinbeck says adjudication, a long and costly fight in the courts, would only happen if the city of Paso Robles and the county rule landowners do not have quiet title over their property. That is something she hopes won't happen. "We have worked hard to brand ourselves as family farmers, to brand ourselves as hardworking people that love the land," said Steinbeck. "Why would we do anything to use a resource unwisely, that we use to make a living?" Pro Water Equity and the Paso Robles Agricultural Alliance for Groundwater Solutions, or PRAAGS, the two most outspoken organizations in the fight for water, say they are continuing their talks with one another to eventually establish a governance board to manage the ailing basin. PRAAGS issued this statement to KSBY, saying "It is not involved and will not take a position on the suit. It's forging ahead with plans to establish a solution to the water problem - a management district for water basin overliers. PRAAGS believes basin management is inevitable, and it's better to have local control than to leave decisions in the hands of the county."

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