San Luis Obispo County officials adopted a management plan for a portion of the county’s groundwater Tuesday. It’s a plan required under California’s 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act—or SGMA—a law that, for the first time in California’s history, placed rules on the use of groundwater, which supplies up to two-thirds of the state’s fresh water. The Paso Robles subbasin is one of the state’s most depleted underground water sources, after decades of overuse and mismanagement.
Under SGMA, new local governmental groups called Groundwater Sustainability Agencies—or GSAs—must come up with management plans for their local groundwater basins and submit those for state approval.
In San Luis Obispo County, four county GSAs joined forces to draft a single plan for the Paso Robles subbasin, calling themselves the Paso Basin Cooperative Committee, or PBCC. Holding 61 percent of the voting power of the committee, north county district supervisor John Peschong is one of the main producers of the new plan.
“We had [a] board with the San Miguel Community Service District, with the Shandon/San Juan [Water District]—which are farmers, so there were farmers on our board, the city of Paso Robles—council member Hammon—and myself,” Peschong said at Tuesday’s meeting of the county supervisors. “And with that board, I think we've actually done the job that we set out to do.”
But others are not impressed with the plan Peschong and the other PBCC members have conceived. In the months before the draft plan was first publicly revealed in mid-August, agriculturalists in the Paso Robles area said they were being left out of the decision-making process.
“I was disappointed that we didn't get a seat at the table, I would have liked to have the agriculturists who use the water to be a little better represented,” Steve Carter, regional vineyard manager for J. Lohr Vineyards in Paso Robles, told KCBX News in late July. “We haven't had very much contact in meetings with the county...the [PBCC] hasn't really been proactive in getting the people that use most of the water together and say, ‘hey, here's what we're thinking. How is this going to affect you?’”
On Tuesday, supervisor Bruce Gibson applauded all the hard work county staff members put into working on the plan. But he said the PBCC failed to make difficult decisions about who actually can use how much of the county’s groundwater.
“Unfortunately, the hard conversations that need to be had, haven't been had yet,” Gibson said during board comment. “And as such, we see a plan before us that is almost completely devoid of specifics in its implementation.”
Gibson said a glaring error of the plan approved by the county and the city of Paso Robles Tuesday is that it doesn’t provide a mechanism for measuring current use. He said the plan should include a program to install meters now on all the wells that will be required metering in the future, under SGMA.
Now that the county supervisors signed off on the plan, it goes to the state Department of Water Resources for approval and tweaks, as Peschong said he thinks will happen; or rejection and an order to go back to the drawing board, as Gibson said is a possibility.