Paso Robles to work on groundwater plan again

After a temporary holdup caused by the state’s budget problems, work is about to resume on a plan to preserve much of the North County’s groundwater.

Studies thus far show basin use has increased over time and is approaching an estimated long-term yield of 97,900 acre-feet per year, according to county documents.

Total pumping increased by 5,516 acre-feet per year between 2000 and 2006, the most recent data available. If pumping continued at that rate, and no water management actions were taken, an overdraft would result in less than 10 years, according to the county’s Paso Robles Groundwater Basin Pumping Evaluation study.

The grant-funded Paso Robles Groundwater Basin Management Plan will bring together those with an interest in the basin, including cities, agriculturalists and landowners, to develop a comprehensive way to protect groundwater resources.

Those interested can attend the kickoff meeting set for Nov. 12. It will include a review of the project’s purpose, approach and schedule, which includes a draft plan to be released in November 2010 and a final version due in February 2011.

The $311,640 project will take a look at groundwater conditions and identify ways to improve long-term water supply reliability so the Board of Supervisors can one day adopt the measures.

Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo County officials have teamed up on the project, with $242,440 coming from state grants and $69,200 contributed in city and county staff time.

Information from existing wells will be used in development of the plan, said Keith Larson, Paso Robles’ water conservation manager.

“One of the outcomes of the plan will be to identify any data gaps (and) needs for additional monitoring wells in the future,” Larson added.

Groundwater, the primary source in the basin, goes to for agriculture irrigation, urban consumption and commercial use in Shandon, Creston, Atascadero and Paso Robles.

Given that agriculture accounts for two-thirds of pumping, according to county documents, data from those users are key to management of groundwater resources for long-term sustainability.

Among the topics solicited for public input will be groundwater conditions, identifying local and basin-wide issues and outlining voluntary measures to protect natural resources. Encouraging participation in the planning process, officials said, will facilitate community support of the overall management plan.

In December 2007, the city and county filed a grant application to the California Department of Water Resources Local Groundwater Assistance Program to prepare the groundwater plan, and it was to begin earlier this year. It was then suspended in the state funding issues in February, but was reinstated to begin this month, officials said.