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Managing the Paso Robles groundwater basin: it's all in the details

Two bills in the state Legislature would require the development of a water management plan for the Paso Robles groundwater basin to prevent overdraft of the aquifer.

The bills also list criteria and deadlines the water plan must meet in order to prevent state water officials from intervening. They include:

• Initiate developing a sustainable groundwater management plan for the basin by Jan. 1, 2018.



• Complete development of a management plan by Jan. 1, 2020 with progress reports every five years to state water officials.



• Establish monitoring, measuring and reporting on groundwater conditions.



• Submit reports on groundwater extraction to state water officials



• Establish a system for allocating groundwater based on the sustainable yield of the basin.



• Collect groundwater management fees.



• Establish a system for local, voluntary transfers of groundwater within the basin.



If no local agency is created to meet this criterion or an existing agency does not step forward to meet them, the State Water Resources Control Board could select a qualified third party to develop the plan. The legislation does not give details about who the third party would be.

In San Luis Obispo County, there are currently two possibilities for a local agency that could meet this criterion and prevent state intervention.

One of these is forming a special water district for the Paso Robles basin as outlined in a bill by Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, R-San Luis Obispo, which is currently in the state Legislature. If the district is formed, the county’s Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) would be responsible for giving the district the powers and authorities needed to comply with the mandates of state law.

However, the formation of this district is far from certain. Some residents of the basin have voiced opposition to the plan and the two North County water groups that originally proposed forming the district have withdrawn their support.

Achadjian has said he will withdraw the bill if supervisors ask him to. However, supervisors have failed to come to a consensus on this issue and no hearing has been set to discuss taking a position.

Additionally, Achadjian’s bill, AB 2453, has been significantly amended in the Legislature. Provisions have been added requiring that in order for the district to be formed, two votes by a majority of the landowners in the basin would be required. One vote would be to petition LAFCO to form the district and the other would be to approve the district. If either of these votes fails, the district will not be formed.

There are roughly 4,000 landowners in the basin and more than 2,000 of them would be required to vote in favor of formation.

If the special water district is not formed, responsibility to manage the basin would likely fall to the county Board of Supervisors. Current state law allows existing agencies to form groundwater management plans that are commonly referred to as AB 3030 plans.

Sitting as the county Flood Control and Water Conservation District, supervisors could develop an AB 3030 plan for the basin and oversee it.

This approach has one major drawback: the basin would be managed by the Board of Supervisors, three of whom do not represent residents of the Paso Robles groundwater basin, thus limiting local control of the basin.

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