Paso Robles officials seek water element in master plan

Steve Martin
Steve Martin The Tribune

Two Paso Robles officials are proposing to add another layer of water discussion to the city’s master plan for growth.

Mayor Steve Martin and Councilman John Hamon were inspired to make the pitch to the City Council at its June 16 meeting after they attended a two-day water law conference in Sacramento, which the city paid for them to attend.

“We have water master plans all in place, but we don’t have a water element that defines what water means to us,” Martin said. “The city needs to come right out front with the statement: ‘Paso Robles will be the leader in the responsible use of water.’ ”

The Paso Robles General Plan already has elements for land use, traffic, housing, parks and recreation, conservation, open space, noise and public safety that “define quality of life issues and guidelines and restrictions and direction for construction in the city’s future,” Martin said. “It’s the way things are done and put together.”

Adding a water element to the mix would be a helpful way to communicate the city’s water resource plans in one place, Martin said.

Falling levels in the Paso Robles groundwater basin, which serves the city as well as unincorporated parts of northern San Luis Obispo County, combined with the mounting stresses of the state’s ongoing drought have made water a critical topic.

The city’s effort to secure various sources of water — groundwater, Salinas River underflow, supplemental Nacimiento Lake water and plans for recycled water — along with conservation efforts, means Paso Robles has the water to meet its population build-out of 44,000 people by 2045. But any new growth over the city’s current general plan would have to buy into supplemental water to offset the city’s need for groundwater.

Additionally, city staff is looking into completing a recycled water project in the next five years if demand calls for it.

Those plans are detailed in the city’s complex Urban Water Management Plan — which demonstrates that the city has reliable water supplies through the general plan’s build-out. Martin discussed city plans that detail regulations such as the city’s water-efficient landscape ordinance that cuts back on turf for new developments.

A specific water chapter in the general plan could include plans for drought-resistant construction techniques for new housing, for example.

“I think if we make that a city priority in design going forward … other cities would be coming to us from the standpoint that Paso was the community that went from high water usage to low water usage and still maintained a beautiful community,” Martin said.

He’d also like the general plan to include recycled water systems planning and the creation of more storage facilities to manage rainfall.

“I’m sure there are many more (ideas),” Martin said, noting the process of adding to the general plan would require several public hearings and community input.

The City Council could decide later this year whether it would like to place the water element idea on a future council meeting agenda for discussion, Martin said.