Board should extend pumping restrictions

More time is needed to develop a long-term solution to depleted groundwater basin

letters@thetribunenews.comOctober 1, 2013 

The moratorium that limits pumping from the depleted Paso Robles groundwater basin will expire on Oct. 11 if the Board of Supervisors doesn’t act soon to extend it.

The board should not hesitate to vote today to continue the restrictions, which apply both to construction and to planting new vineyards and other irrigated crops.

It’s important to note that this is not a total ban — development is allowed, but water needed to support that growth must be offset by conservation efforts elsewhere in the Paso Robles basin.

The restrictions, put in place in late August, were intended to take pressure off this key water source while a longer-term solution is developed. But 45 days — the initial period for this urgency ordinance — isn’t nearly long enough to figure out a permanent fix for the basin. The moratorium, and all of the work that went into it, will be a wasted effort if the ordinance is allowed to expire now, just as progress is being made on multiple fronts.

Promising efforts are under way to develop a water management district that would satisfy both the large vineyard owners and smaller farmers and homeowners who depend on the Paso Robles basin.

At the same time, the county is moving forward with two conservation, or offset, programs:

• A residential conservation program that could include retrofitting older residences with waterconserving toilets, showerheads, dishwashers and other appliances, and possibly replacing lawns with drought-tolerant plants. County staff hopes to have that program ready for review by the end of the year.

• An agricultural offset program for irrigated crops. That’s a more challenging program, and county staff is requesting approval to hire a consultant to help with that. That makes sense. This is a new area that requires technical expertise, and it’s critical to get it right.

Bottom line: A long-term Paso Robles groundwater basin management plan with several elements — including a water district — is critical to the long-term health of the basin, as well as to the county economy.

But that will take time to develop, and in the meantime, the health of the basin will be further jeopardized if pumping is allowed to escalate unabated.

The Board of Supervisors wisely agreed to in August that pumping restrictions should be in place. We strongly urge the board to stay the course by extending the moratorium for up to two years.

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