Supervisors survey options for saving Paso groundwater basin

dsneed@thetribunenews.comJuly 29, 2013 

County planners have outlined a series of emergency steps county supervisors could take to minimize depletion of the Paso Robles groundwater basin.

In a 25-page staff report to be considered Aug. 6, Kami Griffin, assistant planning director, laid out a wide range of land-use restrictions and limitations that could be contained in an emergency ordinance.

Included are prohibitions of any new plantings of irrigated crops, bans on conversion of dry land farming or grazing land to irrigated crops and limitations on building new development if it is dependent upon the groundwater basin.

The law could also give supervisors the option to ban or limit agricultural ponds, require water offsets for development and irrigated crop production, metering and monitoring of wells and limiting average water use.

“Although these issues are complex, we hope the potential options contained in this staff report will provide your board with a place to begin your discussion about this very important resource issue,” the report concluded.

Supervisors will review the options and give direction to staff on what should be contained in the emergency ordinance. They are scheduled to vote on the ordinance Aug. 27.

Large turnouts are expected at both meetings. Groundwater levels in the basin have dropped by as much as 100 feet in recent decades with dozens of rural homeowners reporting their wells going dry.

If adopted on Aug. 27, the emergency ordinance would be valid for 45 days. Supervisors could extend the ordinance for another 22 months and 15 days, for a total of two years. Supervisors could then use that two-year period to pass permanent ordinances.

Approval of these measures would require four-fifths votes. With the death of Supervisor Paul Teixeira, that means all of the votes would have to be unanimous.

One of the main tools the county could use to enforce any new rules is the requirement that new wells get a sanitation permit from the county Health Agency. Issuance of the permit would be contingent upon meeting the requirements of the emergency ordinance.

The staff report also contains analysis of the feasibility of the 37 potential components of the ordinance ranging from high to low. High means the rule would be easy to establish and implement, while low indicates it could be more difficult to implement.

For example, prohibiting large agricultural ponds has a high feasibility because such ponds require review by a resource conservation district and a possible grading permit. Conversely, prohibiting new irrigated crop production is given a low to medium feasibility because it would be difficult to enforce especially on lands where wells already exist.

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