Letters to the Editor

Paso Robles groundwater basin: Where do we go from here?

A vineyard and golf course in Paso Robles in 2013.
A vineyard and golf course in Paso Robles in 2013. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

The voters have clearly stated that they do not want the Paso Robles Basin Water District, and they do not want to pay for management of the basin by either the Paso Robles Basin Water District or the SLO County Flood Control and Water Conservation District (FCD).

A lot of people oppose new taxes and more government. Many folks disagreed with the board structure and/or the powers the water district would have. And, sadly, a large number of voters were led to fear that people involved with the water district had some nefarious plans.

Like many who supported the water district, I was brought into the absurd conspiracy theories that floated around during the water district election. Although the election is over, unfounded rumors continue to live on in online blogs and on local talk radio. I feel that I must try again to set the record straight.

My husband and I owned an environmental engineering and consulting firm for 23 years, until we retired in 2009. One of our more than 200 clients was the Kern Water Bank Authority — a joint powers authority, which includes a Stewart Resnick company. We performed environmental site assessments for the KWBA more than 15 years ago, were not involved in any way with their water banking operations and have not worked for them since 2001. Any statements otherwise are absolute lies.

So where do things stand now? The basin is still in decline, wells are still going dry, and well pumps are still being lowered. An analysis of recent well-drilling data supplied by the county Department of Environmental Health Services indicates 141 domestic wells (including my own well) were replaced from 2011-2015. That number doesn’t address agricultural wells that were replaced. An unknown number of well pumps have been lowered, and some people are continuing to truck water to their homes.

The change in storage in the basin (overdraft) is now on the order of 6,500 acre-feet per year on average, climbing to an average of 10,000 acre-feet per year by 2020, when the Groundwater Sustainability Plan must be adopted. The overdraft of the basin will increase each year since no solutions are in place to change this situation.

The Paso Basin Advisory Committee (and its predecessor, the Blue Ribbon Committee) met for four years and developed a list of solutions. All of their hard work is being ignored, and their primary solution — development of a local water district — has been dismissed.

The County Board of Supervisors (as the directors of the county Flood Control District) has three choices:

(1) Another Proposition 218 vote for funding of Sustainable Groundwater Management Act compliance by the Flood Control District;

(2) Funding of SGMA compliance for the Paso Basin by annually pulling funding from other programs/projects in the county at the expense of taxpayers outside the basin;

(3) Allowing the state to manage the basin.

Management of the basin will only come from pumping restrictions and groundwater enhancements (supplemental water, improved aquifer recharge). Allocations based on water-use type, crop type, available rainfall, subarea or other appropriate method must be established.

A long-term funding source is required for SGMA compliance. If the Board of Supervisors decides to manage the basin, there are a number of necessary commitments. First, metering of all large water users within the basin needs to be initiated now. The Board of Supervisors should immediately begin adoption of a metering ordinance. Without accurate water-usage data, the basin cannot be managed.

Management of the basin will only come from pumping restrictions and groundwater enhancements (supplemental water, improved aquifer recharge). Allocations based on water-use type, crop type, available rainfall, subarea or other appropriate method must be established. If the county is to manage the basin, the Board of Supervisors will be determining the appropriate allocations of water for each water user. Pumping restrictions will need to be established and enforced.

The Flood Control District also needs to partner with the city of Paso Robles for use of their recycled water, which must be combined with Nacimiento water in order to be of acceptable water quality. A project to pump this combined water east of Paso to where it can best help the basin needs to begin as soon as possible.

Aquifer recharge projects, whether by use of Nacimiento water, state water, or by better management of flows through the Huer Huero and Estrella Rivers, need to be initiated. The Paso Basin Advisory Committee and the Blue Ribbon Committee studied these solutions. Now, the solutions need to be implemented.

Management of the basin means stopping the decline in groundwater levels and stabilizing the basin. Preparing and submitting a GSP is only part of what is required. Making the hard decisions and affecting positive change in basin levels is necessary.

If the Board of Supervisors does not have the political will to do what is necessary to properly manage the Paso basin quickly and effectively, they should ask the state to take this responsibility as soon as possible. The residents and landowners of the basin need to have their water supply preserved, and the law — SGMA — mandates that the basin be sustainably managed.

Sue Luft is a Paso basin resident and landowner and past chair of the Paso Robles Basin Advisory Committee. She was elected to serve on the Paso Basin Water District board of directors, had its formation been approved by voters.

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