SLO County groundwater regulations approved
October 28, 2015
The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors narrowly approved a package of regulations Tuesday that will restrict groundwater usage in multiple unincorporated areas of the county.
On a 3-2 vote, supervisors Bruce Gibson, Adam Hill and Frank Mecham voted in favor of the groundwater regulations while supervisors Debbie Arnold and Lynn Compton opposed them. Mecham, who held the swing vote, said it was better to do something about groundwater basin management than nothing.
The core component of the rules approved Tuesday is a regulation prohibiting new residential and agricultural development in the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin unless developers or growers conserve an equal amount of water in the area through other efforts. Water conservation possibilities include plumbing retrofits, grass removal and swapping out crops that require that require a lot of water.
An emergency ordinance that imposed a similar ban expired in late August. The new regulation will expire in 2020 when a state mandate on management of the groundwater basin takes effect.
The new regulatory package also includes a rule requiring Nipomo Mesa developers to offset their water usage. As with the Paso Robles basin, Nipomo Mesa developers must conserve an amount of water that is at least as much as they consume.
None of the regulations approved Tuesday apply to cities in SLO County. The board of supervisors only has the authority to impose land use rules on unincorporated areas of the county.
Proponents of the county water conservation program contend it is needed to stabilize the local groundwater basins. Supporters also warned the county had to move quickly to address the problem or face losing local control of its basins.
Arnold argued the regulations unfairly impact farmers and rural land owners. She also said there had been no longterm designation of overdraft, and the only water severity declaration was a political decision made by the county.
Compton said the county spent more than $1 million dollars on the conservation program and only saved five acre feet of water.
Public speakers at Tuesday’s hearing were split for and against the new regulations.