Supervisors OK action on Paso Robles groundwater basin

Citing a “tremendous sense of urgency,” the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved an accelerated plan to find solutions for the dwindling Paso Robles groundwater basin.

Supervisors approved issuing a request for proposals from consultants who would identify strategies for stabilizing the groundwater basin, which has seen falling levels in some areas since 1981.

Courtney Howard, a county water resources engineer, said it could take a year to develop a plan of action. But supervisors asked county staff to come back in four months with a status report and a list of possible solutions in six months.

“We can’t wait a year to address this problem,” said Supervisor Jim Patterson, whose district includes a big part of the North County.

Creston as well as the Estrella and Shandon areas east of Paso Robles are the hardest hit. Residents there report steep declines in the levels of their water wells, and many say they are afraid that they will lose their homes if their wells run dry.

Sue Luft, who sits on the county Water Resources Advisory Committee, said it could take a decade or longer to develop a new source of water for the area and that would only partially address the problem.

“An immediate reduction in pumping is what is needed to stabilize the basin,” she said.

The Paso Robles groundwater basin covers 790 square miles of the North County and is the primary source of water for the area. It has a sustainable annual yield of 98,000 acre-feet.

Agriculture, particularly vineyards, accounts for 67 percent of the groundwater taken from the basin. Supervisor Bruce Gibson said he is concerned that lawsuits are a real possibility if progress is not made in stabilizing the basin.