I hope the San Luis Obispo County supervisors won’t leave our Paso Robles groundwater basin unprotected. This drought may last for years. We got almost no rain last month.
Our groundwater basin is now protected by an emergency ordinance. The Board of Supervisors approved it in 2013, but it expires in August. It could have been replaced by a new ordinance, but the supervisors rejected that idea Tuesday in a 3-2 vote. I’m worried.
We already use more water each year than nature provides. A recent engineering report says we over-pump the Paso Robles groundwater basin by an average of 2,473 acre-feet per year. (An acre-foot is an acre of water one foot deep. It contains 325,851 gallons.)
Each year we North County people pump an average of 92,173 acre-feet of water from our basin. But nature can only replace 89,700 acre-feet. So the water level drops. The engineers said the water level in part of the basin may fall 70 feet in the next 30 years even if our pumping increases by only 1 percent a year.
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The current emergency Paso Robles groundwater basin ordinance bans all new irrigation in the basin unless property owners agree to quit using an equal amount of water elsewhere. It also bans new housing in the basin without an equal water conservation offset.
The new ordinance that the supervisors decided not to pursue Tuesday was somewhat similar but would have also applied to the Nipomo Mesa and Los Osos. It could also have been permanent, unlike the current ordinance. Being permanent was one of the reasons mentioned by supervisors for rejecting the ordinance.
I can see why farmers and ranchers want flexibility to react to the weather and to plant at the best times. But we can’t go on every year using 2,500 acre-feet of water that isn’t replaced. Do we really want to leave our children with dry wells?
Also, a new state law now requires us to manage our groundwater basins so that our pumping doesn’t exceed the natural replacement flow. The county staff is now preparing a proposal for a Paso Robles groundwater basin management district. It may go to the county Local Agency Formation Commission in April.
Creating that district might take a year or two. So what will happen in August when the current emergency Paso Robles basin ordinance expires? Will landowners drill as many wells as they can before new restrictions are imposed? I hope not, but I wouldn’t be surprised.
I hope the county supervisors quickly pass another temporary, renewable basin ordinance. It may satisfy the supervisors and landowners who fear a permanent ordinance. And it would prevent a possible drilling rush.