Supervisors direct staff to craft Paso groundwater ordinance

August 7, 2013

water2The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors will consider adopting an emergency ordinance on August 27 that would restrict development and water usage in the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin.

On Tuesday, the supervisors voted 4-0 to direct staff to draft two possible emergency ordinances, which the board will consider for adoption on August 27. The ordinances would prohibit residential and agricultural development in the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin that require new uses of water unless the projects generate water savings elsewhere in the basin that offset the new usage by a 2 to 1 ratio.

One of the proposed ordinances would restrict new water uses in the entire basin, while the other would include only the area that has endured the largest drop in groundwater levels.

In order to adopt an emergency ordinance, the board must vote unanimously for one. Four votes are required to pass an emergency ordinance, and the board currently has four members due to the June death of Supervisor Paul Teixeira.

If the supervisors adopt an emergency ordinance, it will remain valid for 45 days. The board will then have the opportunity to extend the ordinance for two years.

Supervisors Bruce Gibson and Adam Hill expressed firm support for the emergency ordinance as a stopgap measure to deal with the drying of wells in the basin. They said the residents of the groundwater basin are in a crisis, and the supervisors must overcome political differences to resolve the crisis.

Supervisors Frank Mecham and Debbie Arnold voted with Gibson and Hill to direct staff to draft the proposed ordinances, but the two North County supervisors expressed concerns about the proposals.

Mecham said the board should limit development restrictions to the areas most affected by the lowering of groundwater levels. Arnold said the county should use state allotted water that it is currently selling to help rural residents who are losing their wells.

County residents spoke for several hours during public comment Tuesday both in support and in opposition to the proposed emergency ordinances. Several groundwater basin residents said their wells have dried and urged the board to pass an emergency ordinance. Others said the proposed ordinances would constitute a taking of property.


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A 20+ year resident of SLO County, my daily commute now passes vineyards littering the landscape where once stood noble oaks and fields. White posts of budding vines lay in neat rows up and down the rolling hills, looking like cemetery markers. The reservoir mounds rise like eerie tombs.

At the Aug 6th BOS meeting, I was appalled at our Supervisors, in particular Arnold and Mecham. They, who should be Champions for the People of the North County, are too busy keeping their wealthy backers satisfied, using techniques to stall and detract from the crisis issues at hand. People’s homes are under siege by the Battle for Water and Profits while the Blue Ribbon interests and Board of Supervisors play chicken with Nature and our future. Meanwhile, the Great Grape Takeover has had a chance to get permits in process prior to any potential ordinance, hoping to continue on without obstruction.

And when there is no water left in the Valleys of the Vines, the corporations and billionaires will pull the plug. We will live in a dust bowl where beauty once stretched, and the reservoirs will become the Tombs of Lost Hopes and Dreams. This will be the legacy of this Board of Supervisors in 2013, who let it happen. Let’s organize – gather – strategize – protest – boycott – recall. Attend the next BOS meeting. I’d like to hear what others are doing. SAVE OUR BASIN!