The first step in halting salt water intrusion is to stop pumping along the coast and that has happened in most areas. The second solution is to develop new water supplies and that is why lakes Nacimiento and San Antonio were developed. They hold about 700,000 acre feet of water combined.

To replace water lost to reduced pumping, the county resources agency has built sewer treatment plants to provide tertiary treated water for agricultural crops. 13,000 acre feet of treated water are now delivered to farmers in the Castroville area from a sewer treatment plant. There remains a need to pump about 9,000 acre feet annually.

The agency also added the rubber bladder to Nacimiento lake to capture more water. Johnson said this move does not represent the development of “new” water. It created “flexibility” to capture water during certain times of the year.

During a “dry year” like 2009, this bladder allows water mangers to keep the lake full.

Winn cited California’s history from the days when water was used to mine gold. Today, water is the gold in California.

Winn is a water master in the Santa Maria area where access to water is tangled up in court. It has cost farmers, cities and urbanites millions so far without a firm resolution.

It evolves around who should pay for cleaning out silt behind a dam and who owns the water beneath the surface.

Twitchell Reservoir was built in 1959 in southern San Luis Obispo County and northern Santa Barbara County. The dam and reservoir provide flood control and water conservation. Water is stored in the reservoir during big winter storms and released as quickly as possible while still allowing it to percolate into the soil and recharge the groundwater. Sedimentation is a problem for the reservoir and now the lake is almost half silted up.

Winn said the city of Santa Maria wanted to clean out the silt and asked the famers who benefited from the dam to pay for it. Winn said farmers said no.

That issue along with disputes over who owns groundwater prompted lawsuits that were filed initially in 1997 and are still in court.

Winn said a water master is to be appointed as part of a court-ordered settlement of the lawsuits.

This water master, according to Winn, will decide who gets the available water.