Groundwater basin decision shows spirit of compromise is alive

Emergency water basin ordinance required ideological differences to be set aside

letters@thetribunenews.comAugust 28, 2013 

From left, Supervisors Frank Mecham, Debbie Arnold, Bruce Gibson and Adam Hill listen to public comment Tuesday on the proposed emergency ordinance. An estimated 75 people spoke at the 11-hour meeting.

DAVID MIDDLECAMP — dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

Compromise may be a dying art in some halls of government, but it was alive and well at the San Luis Obispo County Government Center on Tuesday.

It took all day, yet in the end county supervisors managed to craft a temporary solution to the Paso Robles groundwater basin crisis by putting a hold on new development throughout much of the basin. The ban covers both new construction and the planting of additional irrigated crops, though growth will be allowed if applicants can find a way to offset any additional water usage by conserving water elsewhere in the basin.

The emergency ordinance will be in effect for 45 days, though it can be extended up to two years.

Passage of the ordinance was not a sure or easy thing; three of the four supervisors had to budge at least a bit.

Bruce Gibson and Adam Hill wanted to require new development to offset water use by a 2:1 ratio. Debbie Arnold and Frank Mecham would not agree, however, so Gibson and Hill settled for a 1:1 offset.

Arnold, on the other hand, wanted to exempt several projects that were already in the pipeline, but she could not get the other supervisors to go along.

Only Supervisor Mecham, who represents the Paso Robles area, got everything he asked for, including exemptions for areas served by the San Miguel Community Services District and the Shandon County Services Area.

All in all, the board ended up with a reasonable ordinance that should relieve pressure on the basin until a more permanent solution can be reached. The long-term fix will almost certainly involve creation of some form of water management district.

In other words, there is much work left to do, but we’re encouraged by the supervisors’ actions on Tuesday.

Their ability to set aside ideological differences and to put the health of the groundwater basin above business interests, including the expansion plans of the wine industry, is commendable. It won’t be forgotten.

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