Paso Robles City Council creates groundwater management agency

Laurie Gage and Dave King install signs in support of a North County groundwater sustainability agency, which residents voted down in March.
Laurie Gage and Dave King install signs in support of a North County groundwater sustainability agency, which residents voted down in March. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Paso Robles on Tuesday voted to create a groundwater sustainability agency, a step toward working with other groups to carry out a state mandate to manage the North County basin.

City Council members voted unanimously to form the GSA, which will be accountable for groundwater within the city’s jurisdiction. Now, the city has 30 days to send an application to the state, which must approve the agency’s formation.

The council created the agency in response to the state Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which was passed in 2014. The law requires GSAs to oversee groundwater basins that are in overdraft — including the 790-square-mile Paso Robles sub-basin — and make sure they are being managed sustainably by 2020.

The Paso Robles sub-basin, which is part of the larger Salinas Valley groundwater basin that stretches north into Monterey County, was declared to be in overdraft because of rapidly declining water levels.

The City Council will serve as the the governing body for the Paso Robles agency, which will coordinate with other soon-to-be-created agencies to make sure residents and landowners don’t take more water from the basin than goes into it, said Dick McKinley, the city’s public works director.

All agencies will work together to develop an overall groundwater sustainability plan for the sub-basin. The agencies also will collaborate with Monterey County as part of the Salinas Valley basin.

Still to be determined is the fate of North County residents and landowners in some unincorporated areas. In March, those voters rejected the creation of a single Paso Robles groundwater basin management district, an agency that would have accounted for all county-governed areas.

In the wake of that vote, several areas have started the process of forming their own GSAs. The San Miguel Community Services District has officially applied for state GSA status, and residents in the San Juan-Shandon and Estrella-El Pomar-Creston areas also have started working toward creating agencies.

But the remaining residents will need to create their own GSAs, join others or be taken on by the county. If none of those options are taken, areas of the Paso Robles sub-basin that aren’t part of a GSA will be governed by the state, which McKinley said looks most favorably on reducing groundwater pumping.

Creating an overall management plan will involve work, which Councilman Jim Reed pointed out at Tuesday’s meeting: “The chance of all these GSAs coming together is going to be slim to none.”

But McKinley said Wednesday that he doesn’t think getting on the same page will be “mission impossible,” especially because a partnership will allow the agencies to share the costs of studies that will be needed to determine how best to manage the basin.

“When you look at the alternative to working things out, it’s worse,” he said.

Lindsey Holden: 805-781-7939, @lindseyholden27

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