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Update: LAFCO votes in favor of new Paso Robles area water district

The proposed EPC service area.

The San Luis Obispo Local Agency Formation Commission, better known as LAFCO, voted Thursday in favor of an application to form a new new, 40,000-acre water district in the Paso Robles area.

Named the Estrella-El Pomar-Creston Water District, or EPC for short, if formed the water district would be “responsible for helping to stabilize the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin,” according to LAFCO, as a Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) required by the 2014 state law called the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).

The EPC GSA would come with a plan to manage the Paso Robles groundwater basin per state law, along with the county, the city of Paso Robles and other agencies. The EPC would be voluntary, meaning landowners would have the choice to join and pay for the district, or not. Landowners within the boundaries get one vote per acre.

LAFCO staff are recommending conditional approval of the request.

The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors affirmed Tuesday the county would pay for and make the rules for groundwater management outside of established water agency boundaries. If the EPC is formed, the landowners in its boundaries could make their own rules for the groundwater underneath their land, such as how much water each member can use. If formed, the water district is expected to cost around $500,000 each year to operate, paid for by a special assessment on the water district members instead of the county.

“I believe that local management of our groundwater resource by the farmers, ranchers and residents that reside over the Basin is the most equitable, efficient and cost-effective choice for meeting compliance with the requirements of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act,” Creston resident Hilary Graves writes in a letter to LAFCO in support of the EPC Water District formation, included in the meeting’s agenda packet. “I do not wish to tax those residents of San Luis Obispo County who will not benefit from management of our basin, nor do I believe that it is the responsibility of others to pay for it.”

“Solution[s] to groundwater basin issues will take time and could require sacrifice from users. The cooperation and support of the large users of water will be essential to a successful plan,” Debra Dommen of Treasury Wine Estates in a letter supporting the EPC.

A handful of area landowners sent letters to LAFCO which read, “I previously signed petition for the inclusion in the proposed Estrella-El Pomar-Creston Water District; however, since that time, I have made the determination that this is not in the best interest for my property or my heirs.”

Since March 24, LAFCO staff report, landowners have made requests to be excluded from the district covering 1,858 acres. Last year, an effort to form a similar water district was rejected by a public vote of over 70 percent.

If LAFCO approves the application this week, there is a period during which property owners can protest LAFCO’s approval. If landowners owning more than fifty percent of the proposed water district’s area object, the application is rejected.

Thursday’s LAFCO meeting starts at 9 a.m. in the county board of supervisors chamber.

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