Water-conservation program is approved for Paso Robles basin

dsneed@thetribunenews.comFebruary 25, 2014 

San Luis Obispo County supervisors Tuesday unanimously approved a water-conservation program that will allow some new development within the Paso Robles groundwater basin.

The program is necessary because in August of last year supervisors approved a two-year emergency ordinance that bans any new development or new irrigated crop production unless the water it uses is offset by an equal amount of conservation.

The offset program expires on Aug. 26, 2015, which is when the emergency ordinance expires.

The program not only will allow new development but also will offer owners of older homes a cost-free way to retrofit their houses to use less water.

Supervisor Frank Mecham, whose district includes much of the Paso Robles basin, on Tuesday repeated his oft-stated fear that the state will step in and begin managing the basin if the county does not.

“It’s time we do something about this,” he said.

The water offsets will come in the form of retrofitting buildings built before 1994 with more water-efficient toilets and showerheads. The program could start in as little as 45 days, said senior county planner James Caruso.

Obtaining the offsets required to build a new home or other building will be part of the county building permit process. The program will be run by a contractor selected by the county who will retain a licensed plumber to do the retrofits and track the amount of water saved through the program.

For example, a typical new home uses about 280 gallons of water per day. In order to build that home, 280 gallons a day worth of water credits would have to be purchased from the conservation program.

Seven to eight older houses would have to be retrofitted in order to conserve the needed 280 gallons of water per day for the new home, Caruso said. The cost for that retrofitting is estimated to range from $4,200 to $5,600.

The county planning department estimates there are 2,700 older homes in the basin that could be retrofitted to create water credits for purchase through the program. The county will be sending postcards to those addresses alerting the owners that they are eligible for retrofitting under the program, Caruso said.

Also as part of the emergency ordinance, a federal resource conservation district based in Templeton is developing a similar, separate conservation offset program for new irrigated agriculture in the basin. That program could be operational by October.

The Paso Robles groundwater basin is in crisis, with aquifer levels declining 2 to 6 feet a year in recent years depending on location, resulting in wells going dry and threatening irrigation water for the North County’s wine industry. The basin supplies water for 29 percent of the county’s population and 40 percent of its agriculture.

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