Saying that the Central Coast is at ground zero of the state’s drought, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday declared the county to be in a drought emergency.
The drought declaration gives county administrators three immediate benefits, said Ron Alsop, county manager of emergency services. It allows the county to make immediate purchases or fund work projects to deal with emergency situations without the normal budget allocation process.
It also allows county personnel to be assigned more quickly to drought-related activities and gives the county higher priority for state and federal drought assistance. San Luis Obispo is the 17th county in the state to declare a drought emergency.
Alsop must return to supervisors monthly to confirm the ongoing need for the emergency declaration. Supervisors said they also want monthly detailed reports on the activities the county is taking to manage the drought during those updates.
“I’m tired of talking about this,” said Supervisor Frank Mecham. “I think we have started on a path of actually doing something.”
One area of immediate concern is Santa Margarita, which is one of four communities in the county whose water service is managed by county Public Works. The community is served by two wells that have seen substantial drops in their levels recently, said Paavo Ogren, Public Works director.
Ogren said he expects to come back to the supervisors within several months with a plan for mandatory conservation efforts in Santa Margarita. These have been imposed during past droughts and have included enforcement actions such as penalties for excessive water use.
The county also provides water services for Cayucos, Shandon and the Avila Valley. While there is concern about water supplies countywide, Santa Margarita has historically been at the greatest risk during droughts.
The U.S. Drought Monitor classifies San Luis Obispo County as experiencing an exceptional drought, which is its most severe designation. It means the county is experiencing significant impacts from the drought including loss of agricultural production, drinking water shortages and an increase in wildfire danger.
Supervisor Adam Hill said the county should be prepared for prolonged drought conditions.
“The problem of the drought is not going to go away and leaves us with dwindling water resources,” he said.