North County water management district gets support

With the stories of nearly 30 North County residents afraid of losing their homes as a result of dropping groundwater levels fresh in their ears, county supervisors Tuesday adopted a series of recommendations to begin forming a water management district and provide emergency relief for homeowners.

The board heard a report from the blue ribbon steering committee for the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin Management Plan. Larry Werner, chairman of the blue ribbon committee, said a water district with enough teeth to manage water use in the basin is necessary in order to look at a range of options for dealing with dwindling groundwater levels.

“Without some sort of governance, we are not going to implement these options,” he said.

Supervisors adopted the following seven recommendations:

• Continue basin modeling efforts to assess the status of the groundwater basin.

• Look at acquiring other sources of water such as from State Water and from the Salinas River.

• Hire a team of experts to evaluate water district and management options.

• Receive a report in three months on the status of forming a water district, hiring experts and making related budget adjustments.

• Approve new appointments to the blue ribbon committee.

• Identify a possible emergency program to acquire unallocated water from Nacimiento Lake.

• Consider adopting urgency ordinances that would provide relief for homeowners from county fees for new wells and consider providing low-interest loans to pay for those wells.

The board also voted down a second motion to look at other urgency ordinances for land-use restrictions that would reduce water demand such as limits on the size of wells and restrictions on agricultural water ponds.

Werner said that some 6,000 rural homeowners are the “canary in the coal mine” for the water basin. Water levels have dropped 100 feet or more in some locations, and rural homeowners are least able to afford a new well.

Supervisors agreed that the area faces an emergency and immediate actions are needed.

“We are going to risk squandering the future of this county if we ruin this basin,” Supervisor Adam Hill said.