Water suppliers in the North County are creating a new agency to meet a state mandate to manage groundwater in the Atascadero sub-basin, but ratepayers won’t see their water bills increase as a result.
The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors, the Paso Robles City Council and the Templeton Community Services District board all agreed Tuesday to form a groundwater sustainability agency to manage the basin and avoid over-pumping groundwater.
The Atascadero Mutual Water Company and the city of Atascadero will vote to join the GSA at their meetings next week.
The new classification means the basin must comply with the state Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which says medium- and high-priority basins must create plans by 2022.
Some communities will be responsible for more of the GSA’s costs than others, but customers likely won’t see their water rates go up.
John Neil, general manager of Atascadero Mutual, said the company has budgeted for its share of the management costs. Dick McKinley, Paso Robles Public Works director, said ratepayers likely wouldn’t see larger bills because the city would pay the cost over the course of two to three years.
“That’s part of why we want to partner with people,” McKinley said of the cost-sharing.
The groups have agreed to split the estimated $500,000 cost of the new agency to study the basin and develop a plan. Cost distribution and members’ voting power will differ for each community.
▪ Atascadero Mutual will pay 43 percent of the costs needed to create a management plan and will have only 20 percent of the voting power.
▪ The city of Atascadero will pay 1 percent of the cost, but will have 13.33 percent of the votes.
▪ Paso Robles and the Templeton CSD will pay for 22 percent and 17 percent of the plan, respectively, although both will get 20 percent of the voting weight.
▪ San Luis Obispo County will pay for 16 percent of the cost and will have 16.67 percent of the voting weight.
Those involved in the negotiations said that arrangement is based on how much water each organization is expected to pump out of the ground, as well as who has control of the land.
“The water company is the single-largest pumper in the Atascadero sub-basin,” Neil said. “We’ve always known we were going to pay the lion’s share of the costs.”
County officials assume the state will classify the Atascadero sub-basin — which isn’t in critical overdraft like the Paso Robles basin — as a medium-priority basin, which means the newly formed GSA will need to develop a sustainability plan by January 2022. If the state classifies the basin as low priority, a groundwater sustainability plan won’t be required. Even so, officials indicate they may still be in favor of retaining the GSA they create.
“If the state were to step in and say it’s low priority, I still think it’s in our interest to put a plan in place,” Neil said. “It just makes sense.”
Cost-sharing for new groundwater sustainability agency
Atascadero Mutual Water Company: 43 percent cost share; 20 percent voting weight.
Templeton CSD: 17 percent cost share; 20 percent voting weight.
City of Paso Robles: 22 percent cost share; 20 percent voting weight.
City of Atascadero: 1 percent cost share; 13.33 percent voting weight.
County of San Luis Obispo: 16 percent cost share; 16.67 percent voting weight.
Other small systems: 1 percent cost share; 10 percent voting weight.