North County landowners apply for new wells in droves

dsneed@thetribunenews.comAugust 8, 2013 

With the prospect of restrictions on new well drilling in the Paso Robles groundwater basin, a record number of North County property owners have applied for county well permits.

Since July 29, the San Luis Obispo County Department of Environmental Health has received about 100 well permit applications. This is far above the normal rate, said Rich Lichtenfels, supervising environmental health specialist.

“We would normally expect to take in seven or eight such permit requests in a week's time,” he said.

On Tuesday, the county Board of Supervisors directed its planning staff to develop new land-use regulations that would prohibit any new extractions from all or part of the Paso Robles groundwater basin unless that new pumping was offset 2 to 1 with conservation elsewhere in the basin.

The restrictions would come in the form of an emergency ordinance intended to slow the depletion of the basin’s aquifer, which has seen steep declines in recent decades. The board will vote whether to formally approve the restrictions July 27.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Kami Griffin, acting planning director, said the fear of new regulatory restrictions often prompts a rush to get a permit before the new restrictions take effect.

As of Tuesday, 53 applications for new well permits had been received, Griffin said. That number doubled over the next two days.

Any new restrictions adopted by supervisors would target new irrigated crops, including vineyards, and new development. New wells drilled to replace old ones that have gone dry would likely be exempted.

One of the main tools the county would use to enforce new drilling restrictions is its well permit program. Well drillers must receive a permit from county Environmental Health to drill a new well.

The purpose of the permit is to ensure that the new well is not near a septic system or hazardous waste site that could contaminate the well’s water. Additional requirements could be placed on the permit to show that the well is not a new use of the basin’s aquifer.

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