Controversial SLO County water regulations up for vote
October 26, 2015
By JOSH FRIEDMAN
A divided San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors will vote Tuesday on proposed groundwater use regulations that would curtail farming and development in rural North County and the unincorporated areas of the county.
The core component of the proposal is a regulation that would prohibit new residential or agricultural development in the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin unless developers or growers conserve an equal amount of water in the area through other efforts. An emergency ordinance that imposed a similar ban expired in late August.
Proponents of the ordinance contend it is needed to stabilize the basin. In addition, supporters worry that if they do not move quickly, the county could lose local control of its basins.
Opponents of the portion of the ordinance that requires farmers planting new crops to offset water uses elsewhere, believe that this could impact the recovery of agriculture and the economy. Statewide, many farmers have lowered the amounts of crops they are growing because of the drought. Because of this, Mexico, Chilie and other countries are producing more crops.
Critics of offsets that continue after the drought, worry the ordinances will hamper agricultural and economic recovery in the state.
The board of supervisors will also vote Tuesday on a proposal to require developers on the Nipomo Mesa to offset their new water usage. If approved, developers would have to conserve an amount of water that is at least as much as they consume. County planners are suggesting that occur through the removal of grass on the Mesa.
County supervisors Bruce Gibson and Adam Hill are expected to vote in favor of the groundwater use regulations. Supervisors Debbie Arnold and Lynn Compton are expected by many to vote against the regulations.
Outgoing District 1 Supervisor Frank Mecham likely holds the swing vote. Mecham has often, but not always, voted with Gibson and Hill on groundwater use restrictions. Mecham said he wants something to be done now, but has some concerns over the ordinance as proposed.
“The basin has to be managed,” Mecham said. “Something has to be done now.”
The proposed regulations exempt cities since the board of supervisors only has the authority to impose land use rules on unincorporated areas of the county. The districts Arnold and Compton represent are most affected by the proposals the board will consider Tuesday.
Proponents argue the regulations are needed because of the stress the ongoing drought has placed on local groundwater basins. The Tribune endorsed the regulatory proposals in an editorial published Sunday.
Opponents, like the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business (COLAB), argue the groundwater regulations infringe on property rights. COLAB published a newsletter stating the regulations are not about water, but rather about shutting down development and implementing smart growth.
The board of supervisors is expected to hold a day-long hearing Tuesday on the proposed regulations.
Don’t miss links to breaking news stories, like CCN on Facebook.