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New opt-in water district to manage Paso Robles groundwater

Thursday the San Luis Obispo local agency formation commission - better known as LAFCO - voted in favor of an application to form a new water district in the Paso Robles Area. In a five-to-two vote, the LAFCO commissioners approved the formation of the Estrella-El Pomar-Creston Water District, or EPC for short.

The EPC district covers about 40,000 acres east of Paso Robles. The district will be in charge of partly managing the Paso Robles groundwater basin, considered a high priority basin by the state. It’s listed as critically overdrafted. This week’s LAFCO vote was the first step in the formation of the EPC water district, which will serve as a Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) under the state’s 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).

After formation and working out administrative details, EPC water district members will have until 2020 to come up with a sustainable management plan for the Paso Robles groundwater basin, and work with the other local agencies to implement it.

The two LAFCO commissioners who voted against the water district’s formation were San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Debbie Arnold and Atascadero City Council member Roberta Fonzi. Earlier in the week, Arnold led a San Luis Obispo County supervisorial vote in designating the county as the GSA for areas not within the boundaries of a newly-established or existing water district, despite hours of public testimony opposing county coffers wholly funding the management of groundwater basins that relatively few people, ag operations and vineyards use.

David Church is SLO LAFCO’s executive officer. He said the next step in the formation process is a vote by landowner member of the EPC. They will also vote on how to fund the district.

Church said a key difference between the formation of the EPC and a 2016 failed water district formation effort in the same area is that the 2016 one was a vote among all registered voters in the area. The EPC is an opt-in district, meaning it’s only comprised of landowners who want to be included.

The EPC will be working together with other area GSAs - now the county, the city of Paso Robles, the San Miguel Community Services District, the Heritage Ranch Community Services District and the Shandon-San Juan Water District - in complying with SGMA.

The Shandon-San Juan Water District was approved by LAFCO in October and member ratifying ballots are due on April 11, Church said, adding that another key point about both the Shandon and now the EPC districts is that they are not allowed to export water.

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