With sweeping new statewide groundwater management requirements now in place, the county Board of Supervisors will discuss the best way to manage the dwindling Paso Robles groundwater basin on Tuesday.
At the first of the year, the state Sustainable Groundwater Management Act became law. It requires that an agency be selected by 2017 to manage all basins in the state with dropping aquifers including the Paso Robles basin.
“The SGMA was a game changer,” said John Diodati, administrator of the county Department of Public Works. “It is not a question of whether the basin will be managed but who will manage it. That’s what we need to work through.”
In October, supervisors directed the Public Works Department to begin the process of applying to form an independent water management district for the basin. An application to the county Local Agency Formation Commission could be filed by June.
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On Tuesday, supervisors will be updated on the application process and give staff direction on how to proceed. Diodati said he is looking for guidance in four areas — district boundaries, district powers, a funding mechanism and a schedule for forming the district.
Although a majority of supervisors have supported the formation of a new water district, the board could also opt to manage the basin itself as part of the county’s Water Conservation and Flood Control District.
Whichever option is ultimately selected, that entity will have to work with a list of other agencies to manage the basin, Diodati said. These include Paso Robles, Atascadero, Monterey County, Camp Roberts and several community services districts.
“How they would coordinate is yet to be determined,” he said. “A joint powers agreement or a memorandum of understanding is possible.”
Funding for the district would come from a per-parcel fee or tax based on the cost of running the district, Diodoti said. He did not have an estimate of the district’s annual budget, but proponents of the idea have put it at $1 million.
The basin has been facing a groundwater crisis, with residents reporting wells going dry or water levels dropping. A recent hydrological study of the basin found that it has lost 2,400 acre-feet of water a year from 1981 to 2011 and losses are expected to increase unless a way of sustainably managing the basin is found.
The Paso Robles basin is one of five groundwater basins in the county that the state has determined to be in trouble and must be sustainably managed. The others are the Santa Maria, Los Osos, Edna Valley and Cuyama Valley.