Where I Stand On The Paso Robles Groundwater Basin Controversy

I was up late last night, writing and thinking and thinking some more. The result is this letter to the County Board of Supervisors who will meet today to discuss the current state of the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin and how we should proceed in managing this precious natural resource.

Sadly, my stance will make some enemies, although I sincerely hope that we can work together to find a solution that allows me to continue farming for profit and allows rural homeowners to maintain their homes in the country.

August 5, 2013
Board of Supervisors
Room D-­‐430, County Government Center 1055 Monterey Street
San Luis Obispo, CA 93408
Re: Paso Robles Groundwater Basin Urgency Ordinance, #27

Dear Supervisors Arnold, Gibson, Hill, and Mecham:

I am writing to voice my opinion on the declining water levels in the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin. As a fourth generation farmer, I am proud to be able to act as a steward of the land that I farm with my family and I want to be part of the solution to the water problems we are experiencing. I understand that we are currently in a drought and changes are necessary to preserve and protect the basin.

I have been growing wine grapes, making wine, and raising grass fed beef, pastured poultry, and Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs in Creston since I graduated from college and joined the world of work in 1999. I make significant financial, social, and educational contributions to my community. In addition, my work as a farmer provides the residents of our county with the rural living experience that they desire by maintaining agriculture land for farming and supports the livelihood of many local business owners whose stores I frequent. The money that I spend to support our local economy was earned through irrigated agriculture.

I have an overlying right to use ground water beneficially on my property, and I take that right very seriously. I am and have been conserving water in my farming operation since it’s inception by installing soil moisture monitors, erosion control measures, and judicious application of water at appropriate times of the growing season. Water is not something that I take for granted as I rely on it to ripen my crops and to successfully raise food for a large population of local residents.

As our Board of Supervisors, the decisions you make must focus on insuring the core quality of life for both agriculture and rural residents, but the proposed Urgency Ordinance before you today creates unintended consequences to all in the Basin who have made financial commitments and long-­term business and lifestyle decisions: large and small farmers, ranchers, vineyards, and rural homeowners.

I request withdrawal of consideration of the proposed Urgency Ordinance as it would undermine my ability to make a living and support my family through farming.

We should focus instead on investigating responsible options to manage and gather stakeholder input for collaborative groundwater solutions that will meet everyone’s needs with long-­term, sustainable, effective and equitable options.


Hilary Graves
Mighty Nimble, LLC
PO Box 159
Creston CA 93432



12 responses

  1. Hi Hilary, Understanding we must all make tough decisions, and when it comes to eviromental issues, the world in general may be too late!, we all want a smooth consistent life, does our location use more or less of a natural resource? has it the ability to sustain a constant level for what we do on the land. In many cases I think we impose on Mother nature and expect her to maintain our environment to our advantage. Water is probably the second biggest issue our communities face, more so for particular regions, such as yours, and if certain people are exempt, someone else loses, and if no one gives or makes adjustments, we will all lose.  No easy choices, this is certainly going to go on indefinitely, given the region you live and farm in. And we will unfortunately makes enemies.  Some thoughts.


    • Hi David,

      Thank you for your input. You are correct in your statement that there are no easy choices, and this issue has been particularly challenging for me to wrap my head around, both from a policy standpoint as well being true to my moral compass. I am dedicated to educating myself on the topic and I want to help find a fair solution to the problem. I believe that a fair solution is putting a water district in place to manage the Basin. The downside is that this is not a fast process. I will keep you posted on the outcome. Thanks for reading!


  2. There are several actions that could be part of an urgency ordinance–it’s not an all-or-nothing package. I keep seeing reference to only one aspect, imposing a limit of .2 acre-feet per year per acre on existing irrigated crop production. In fact, the proposal clearly states that, “Any existing irrigation practices in effect as of the date of the Urgency Ordinance can continue without any additional standards applied.” The .2 acre-feet/acre restriction is *only* under consideration for circumstances where “an expansion of the irrigated crop production is proposed or a new use other than irrigated crop production is proposed.”

    Obviously, imposing immediate limits on existing operations would result in hardship, but that does not appear to be the primary focus of the proposed actions–the primary focus is to impose a moratorium on new development until a management plan/water district can be put in place:

    “The Urgency Ordinance could disallow the following:

    1. New or expanded irrigated crop production involving an irrigation source from the groundwater Basin.
    2. Conversion of dry farm or grazing land to new irrigated crops involving an irrigation source from the groundwater Basin.
    3. New development dependent upon a well in the groundwater Basin.”

    Those steps seem reasonable and worthy of serious consideration. Otherwise, you can be sure that there will be a rush to develop and expand water uses before they fall under whatever limitations a new water district imposes, and that’s guaranteed to make the situation even worse.

    You have a lot at stake in this and should be concerned. But don’t let the fear-mongering on the part of the interests that are poised to take advantage of a delay obscure the facts. Doing nothing really isn’t an option. Each proposed action should be considered and debated on its individual merits and impacts.

    • Hi Deb,

      Thank you so much for your comment. I really do appreciate your opinion. I agree that doing nothing isn’t an option, but I think that we should quickly work towards creating an entity to manage the Basin responsibly, and let the managing entity make decisions on emergency measures. That entity may be a California Water District or something else, but the sooner we can get that in place the better.


  3. Hilary, what is the Urgency Ordinance, simply put? When I was in the visitors center at San Luis Reservoir in June, which was SHOCKINGLY low, I got an earful from the park official who works there about the absolute need to build the “twin tunnels.” I’m trying to educate myself as well. Los Angeles DWP buys every drop from the northern Cal watershed and the Colorado River she said, and that only districts that pay for water will be paying for the tunnels. Only the farmers that have sprung up in the Delta, (due to freshwater flowing from the northern watershed to provide for them) will suffer with the twin tunnels plan. The delta, which is the largest estuary in the country, and stopping place for millions of migratory birds is supposed to be saltwater, so this influx of fresh water has spoiled the Delta, and the tunnels will take the water underneath the Delta to bring the water south and return it to the saltwater marsh it was. Anyway, it’s all very complicated and political. Let me know if I got the story straight. I want to write an article for my blog and I will include your hopes. Take care! – Kaye

    • Hi Kaye,

      Thanks for your comment. California water policy is very complicated, indeed! I would recommend downloading the reading lists for some water policy classes at UC Davis for a great start at getting educated on the topic. I have begun reading several of the books on those reading lists as well as meeting with several leaders in the water policy arena that I respect in order to get answers to my questions.


  4. Pingback: Paso Robles: Wine, Water, and Stupidity | Hoot n Annie

    • Thanks for your input, Matt. It’s a complex situation that we must address. I’m learning about different options from other areas that have already dealt with this problem. Some interesting ideas out there.

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