San Luis Obispo County reached a milestone in groundwater management Tuesday, when the Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to form its first groundwater sustainability agency, in the Los Osos basin.
In order to comply with the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, the county will manage the 2,400-acre “fringe area” outside the boundaries of the basin that are already adjudicated as a result of an earlier court ruling. Staff with county public works said they plan to form a stakeholder advisory committee and work closely with other organizations in the basin to sustainably manage groundwater.
“Stakeholder participation is key to our SGMA strategy. Folks over the water basin should have a say,” said Wade Horton, director of county public works.
The state designated the aquifer as a high-priority basin in need of a sustainability management plan because it is subject to critical conditions of overdraft, such as saltwater intrusion. Sections of the basin are exempt from the state law because of a court action that resulted in a judge-approved plan to protect and restore the groundwater supply.
No other entity in the “fringe area” was eligible to form a GSA, and if the county had not formed the agency, the state would have intervened and developed a plan at a direct cost to landowners.
The county plans to petition the state to redefine the boundaries of the basin and designate the “fringe area” as a subbasin, exempt from SGMA.
If that’s unsuccessful, management of the groundwater will start with geological and hydrological studies to understand risks of overdraft. Then water users and the GSA will build a sustainability plan.
That work must happen in the next three years and is estimated to cost about $2.4 million from the county general fund, because of a recent policy change implemented by the board.