Judge hands Defendants Setback in Steinbeck Quiet Title Suit
Protect Our Water Rights SEPTEMBER 1st, 2015 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: CINDY STEINBECK 805-227-0776
Judge hands Defendants Setback in Steinbeck Quiet Title Suit Paso Robles, CA, -On Friday August 28th Judge Kirwan ruling on the Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (MJOP) before him, handed the defendants, County of San Luis Obispo, Templeton CSD, San Miguel CSD, The City of Paso Robles and Atascadero Mutual Water Company, a major setback in their suit to prescript the water rights of the members of Protect Our Water Rights (POWR) who have filed to Quiet Title the groundwater water rights to their overlying properties in the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin. The defendants have 10 days to amend their answers. The MJOP filed by POWR asked the court to render a pretrial judgment prior to a verdict. POWR asserted that no facts were given by the purveyors in their answers to POWR’s Quiet Title request. Plaintiffs are, and the Judge determined, entitled to know the facts that are being claimed against them. “Judge Kirwan affirmed the law” said Cindy Steinbeck, spokesperson for POWR. “The law is clear, Purveyors such as the County and Cities only have a right to extract surplus water from the basin. To gain a prescriptive right (i.e. water rights equal to the overlying properties) the defendants must 'openly and notoriously' illegally continue pumping for a period for five years during a time of overdraft. There has never been an official claim or finding of an overdraft condition in the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin. Without that, there can be no prescription.” The defendants also demanded that POWR define the boundaries of the Paso Robles Groundwater basin as well as notice the entire basin, meaning bring all landowners into this Quiet Title Action. This was also struck down by the court. Plaintiffs must prove the ownership of their property and their properties connection to the basin from which defendants extract water. “The law is clear, the burden falls upon the purveyors to define the basin they plan to prescript and give public notice that a prescription period has commenced” said Steinbeck. “None of this has been done, but after Friday’s judgement, purveyors must prove those issues. Any attempt by the county or cities to prescript groundwater rights has been and will be vigorously opposed by POWR.” POWR fully expects the defendants to amend their pleadings as they must substantiate the overdraft claim requirement. In a very recent exchange on that subject, in a July 30th, 2015 letter from County Attorney Rita Neal, Ms. Neal responded to a Public Records Act Request concerning whether Supervisor Gibson had verifiable cause to believe as he stated in a Board of Supervisor Meeting that “the Paso Groundwater Basin is in overdraft, as is plainly indicated by the technical information.” Listing the technical hydrological studies Supervisor Gibson had access to, Ms. Neal stated “The County's response to this request shall not be deemed to constitute any position with respect to whether the reference studies discuss, indicate, show or conclude that the basin or has been in a condition of “overdraft” as defined by Bulletin 118.” This is particularly significant because in an agreement between landowners, the City of Paso Robles and County of San Luis Obispo called the PRIOR agreement (2005), the County is obligated to give official advance notice that the basin is in overdraft and a prescription period has commenced. Court documents can be accessed online http://www.scefiling.org/cases/docket/newdocket.jsp?caseId=962 ### The goal of POWR is to ensure the long-term sustainability of our groundwater supply and to protect and defend the superior priority of our overlying groundwater rights. Over 500 landowners have joined together to protect our rights and our basin.