Moving forward with water solutions for the Paso Robles basin
March 8, 2016
Opinion by supervisors Debbie Arnold and Lynn Compton
Tonight the San Luis Obispo County Clerk Recorder’s Office has reported preliminary results regarding the formation of a special water district, also known as the AB 2453 Water District, for the Paso Robles water basin area. At this time, based on these preliminary results, it appears that the vote to form this special water district will fail.
We believe we can all agree that that we are in the midst of a severe drought, and we will continue to have regulations handed down from Sacramento and targeted at high or medium priority basins, pursuant to the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SIGMA). San Luis Obispo County has five such basins that have been identified as fitting into one of these categories.
The landowners of the Paso Robles Basin have spoken clearly. They do not want to create another layer of government to do the job that the County’s Flood Control District has performed for more than 70 years.
The voters have also indicated they do not want Sacramento to control the Paso Robles basin.
The people want to maintain local control and voted against what would have been one of the largest tax increase in the county’s history. The landowners recognized that, if formed, the AB 2453 Water District would have had special authority to tax and regulate their property, making it more difficult for small family farms to continue to operate.
The process of pursuing this AB 2453 Special Water District, initiated by a handful of large, mostly out of town irrigators, has cost the taxpayers of this county approximately $1 million to date.
So, what’s next given the preliminary ballot results?
We know that the County’s Public Works Department is fully capable of doing the work necessary to comply with the new state laws (SIGMA). There are actually five basins in San Luis Obispo County that must comply with SIGMA. The county, in its capacity, will play a role in the management of each of these identified basins.
We look forward to working with the Public Works Department in the coming months to better understand how to bring the Paso Robles Basin back into balance. The SIGMA-identified basins to become sustainable, basically through increasing their water supply, or by conserving water.
If large agricultural interests in the Paso Robles basin wish to expand, then it would be a business decision for them, to create irrigation districts to bring in more water. Meanwhile, the many thousands of users in the Paso Robles Basin, that do not use their property for commercial irrigation purposes should retain their rights to use their wells and work with the county to ensure that the basin is brought into balance.
The county’s efforts to create additional water supplies are just coming on-line. The Nacimiento Pipeline Project will provide a new source of water (17,500 acre/feet/year) to alleviate some of the pumping in the urban areas of Paso Robles, Templeton, Atascadero and San Luis Obispo, and could possibly be used in the south county under emergency situations.
The county is also actively pursuing a partnership with PG&E to provide desalinated water to the county.
Our goal through all of this has been to ensure that we are looking out for the best interest of the people who live in the Paso Robles Basin and protect our county’s precious water resource.
In the meantime, the county will continue to manage the unincorporated areas of the basin, and work with the cities to design a basin management plan which satisfies the states SIGMA mandates.