Groundwater ordinance bubbling in controversy
August 4, 2013
By DANIEL BLACKBURN
County supervisors will take their first look Tuesday at a wide range of options for a controversial emergency ordinance aimed at curtailing demand on the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin. (See full staff report here.)
“The discussion will be solely to consider options for an ordinance to regulate demand,” wrote County Administrative Officer Dan Buckshi, adding that the board will receive “a full report on the basin issue August 27.”
The staff report before supervisors is intended, said Buckshi, to provide a pathway to preparation of an ordinance designed to slow water extractions while a more permanent solution to overdraft problems is developed.
Such an ordinance will not be received cordially by some of the North County’s agricultural community, members of which have rallied around the concept of a water district with authority to initiate aquifer stabilizing policies and practices.
A group of vineyard owners have formed the Paso Robles Agricultural Alliance for Groundwater Solutions to attempt circumventing an emergency ordinance like the one now being discussed.
The alliance met last week in Paso Robles to discuss options to new, restrictive regulations on groundwater use. John Crossland, the alliance’s treasurer, told the group any ordinance would be “draconian” and he warned supervisors to proceed carefully, suggesting restrictions could put some growers out of business.
An emergency ordinance requires a four-fifths vote and would contain findings “that there is a current and immediate threat to the public health, safety or welfare” by the issuance of new construction and use permits, variances, and other entitlements, according to the county’s staff report.
Among the options that supervisors will consider would be a blanket application of an ordinance’s reach to all properties within the unincorporated areas of the groundwater basin.
The board could prohibit “any uses that may be in conflict” with preservation of the basin’s supply, to the extent of prohibiting new or expanded irrigated crop production; conversion of dry farm or grazing land to new irrigated crops; and new development dependent on well water from the groundwater basin.
Construction of agricultural ponds might be completely prohibited, or their size severely limited.
Projects considered to be “in the pipeline” — projects that do not require a permit or have already been permitted — will not be affected by passage of an emergency ordinance.