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Upcoming hearings to focus on groundwater in Paso Robles, Nipomo

A road leads to well site in a vineyard near Highway 46 east of Paso Robles.
A road leads to well site in a vineyard near Highway 46 east of Paso Robles. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Two hearings have been set that could lead to fundamental changes in how groundwater in the Paso Robles and Nipomo Mesa basins is managed.

On Tuesday, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors set a hearing for Oct. 27 to consider establishing a countywide water conservation program. The program would primarily apply to the Paso Robles and Nipomo Mesa basins and would require that new uses of groundwater in those basins be offset by an equal amount of conservation and would prohibit the wasteful use of water countywide.

Supervisors also set a hearing for Nov. 10 to consider scheduling three elections for March 8 that could establish and fund a water management district for the Paso Robles basin and elect the district’s board of directors.

The hearings are liable to be lengthy and controversial. Past hearings on groundwater management have drawn dozens of speakers both for and against forming a management district for the Paso Robles groundwater basin.

Supervisors have been split, with Supervisors Adam Hill, Bruce Gibson and Frank Mecham favoring the formation of a district. Supervisors Debbie Arnold and Lynn Compton have voted against it.

Tuesday’s resolutions to set the hearings were on the board’s consent agenda — a part of the agenda reserved for noncontroversial procedural items. Neither item was pulled from the consent agenda for discussion.

Board Chairwoman Arnold and staff stressed that the board was only scheduling future hearings and nothing was being decided Tuesday.

“Since this item is an introduction, no action beyond scheduling the public hearing date is necessary at this time,” according to a staff report.

The water conservation program replaces and expands a two-year emergency ordinance for the Paso Robles basin that expired Aug. 27. It expands the offset requirement to the Nipomo Mesa basin and adds provisions for collecting fees and the requirement that new wells installed as part of the offset programs in the Paso Robles and Nipomo Mesa basins be metered to measure use.

New fees proposed as part of the ordinance are a $375 inspection fee for new well meters and a $1,844.24 fee to verify new agricultural offset programs in the Paso Robles basin.

At the Nov. 10 hearing, supervisors will decide whether to finalize a tentative vote taken in August to create a parcel tax that would provide nearly $1 million for management of the Paso Robles basin.

Final approval of the parcel tax will trigger the scheduling of an election tentatively set for March 8 that will put three pivotal questions to voters and property owners in the Paso Robles basin.

Two-thirds of the estimated 7,049 voters in the basin would have to approve the parcel tax for it to take effect. A majority of property owners in the basin will decide whether to form the water district. Finally, if the water district is approved and funded, voters and property owners in the basin would elect a nine-member district board of directors.

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