Paso Robles groundwater district gets support from state water foundation

The proposed Paso Robles groundwater district got a boost this week from a state water advisory group that recommended that local communities should have more authority in managing their dwindling groundwater supplies.

Earlier this week, the California Water Foundation released a report to Gov. Jerry Brown's administration that outlines steps that should be taken for improving groundwater management in the state.

Lester Snow, the foundation’s executive director, said that local water districts are an effective way of managing groundwater.

“We completely support the actions that are being taken there in Paso Robles,” he said.

A key finding of the report recommends “empowering local groundwater management entities to provide locally developed solutions for sustainable groundwater management in their areas, and provide them with tools to proceed.”

Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, R-San Luis Obispo, has introduced a bill, AB 2453, that will allow a Paso Robles groundwater district to be formed with a modified board of directors consisting of a combination of landowners and district residents.

Achadjian has said his main motivation for introducing the bill is to give locals control over the basin, which is consistent with the foundation’s recommendations.

“At a quick glance, I believe these recommendations reaffirm the idea that locals are in the best position to manage their own water,” he said. “AB 2453 will empower our local government to do just that.”

The Brown administration has not responded to the report but has promised to provide leadership to find permanent solutions to the state’s groundwater problems.

The foundation is also recommending that the state Legislature adopt standardized rules that would make it quicker and simpler to form a district but the recommendations do not contain any specifics, Snow said.

The process of forming a water district can take a year or more, and it has been more than 20 years since the last one was formed in the state.

The report concluded that groundwater is a critical resource. It provides 40 percent of the state’s water during normal rainfall years, but that usage jumps to 60 percent during drought conditions such as those the state is currently experiencing.

The groundwater crisis in the Paso Robles basin is one of the highest profile cases in the state but is far from an isolated problem. The state Department of Water Resources says groundwater levels are more than 100 feet below previous historic lows in many parts of the state.

In addition to Paso Robles, the communities of Nipomo, Los Osos and the Cambria/San Simeon area are facing water shortages.

The groundwater crisis is caused by a combination of historic drought conditions and too much pumping, the report said.

“People, farms and the environment all need a more sustainable groundwater supply,” Snow said. “This report is a starting point to ignite effective change in the way we view and manage groundwater as part of California’s overall water supply portfolio.”

The California Water Foundation is a nonpartisan organization dedicated to addressing the state’s water needs. More information can be found at www.californiawaterfoundation.org.