A jury has recently affirmed that public water suppliers have developed and protected the right to use groundwater from the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin (“Basin”) as a source of water supply for the residents and businesses that they serve.
“We are very gratified that the jury agreed that families and small businesses in our area have just as strong a claim on our shared groundwater supply as do agricultural interests,” said Paso Robles Mayor Steve Martin. “Now all our joint attention can turn to developing a plan that serves all and ensures a sustainable groundwater supply for future generations.”
After a month-long trial, a Santa Clara County jury reached a verdict on September 24 deciding that the public water suppliers – including the City of Paso Robles, County of San Luis Obispo, Templeton Community Services District, and San Miguel Community Services District (collectively, the “public water suppliers”) – have the right to use groundwater from the Basin as a source of supply for the communities that they serve.
North County landowners filed a lawsuit against the public water suppliers in 2013 claiming that the landowners’ right to use groundwater is superior or prior to those of the public water suppliers; and, as a result, during times of shortage, the public water suppliers would have to curtail or cease pumping from the Basin while the landowners’ right to pump would remain unaffected. The jury disagreed, and after less than a day of deliberations, found that the public water suppliers have established a “prescriptive right” such that they can continue to share in the groundwater supply consistent with historical practice, even during times of shortage.
“We seek to balance the rights of individual property owners with our shared responsibility to meet the water needs of our community,” said County Administrative Officer Wade Horton. “Hopefully, we can all move forward and work together to manage the Basin.”