Water board allows Paso Robles to clear flammable brush from riverbed

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Following a destructive fire on June 22 and a tense standoff between the city of Paso Robles and the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, the two agencies agreed this week on an immediate plan to clear vegetation from the Salinas Riverbed.

Matt Keeling, executive director of the regional water board, said his office is “working expeditiously” to help Paso Robles implement a short-term plan to thin and remove dry brush from the riverbed. The work is expected to start the week of July 13.

Their agreement comes after a fire on June 22 exited the riverbed and destroyed two homes. The incident prompted a scathing letter from local elected officials, including Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham (R-San Luis Obispo), accusing the water board of obstructing city efforts to conduct fire prevention activities.
CLEANING THE BED The Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board will allow Paso Robles to do emergency fire prevention work in the Salinas Riverbed following a June 22 fire that destroyed two homes. - PHOTO COURTESY OF FIVE CITIES FIRE AUTHORITY
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF FIVE CITIES FIRE AUTHORITY
  • CLEANING THE BED The Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board will allow Paso Robles to do emergency fire prevention work in the Salinas Riverbed following a June 22 fire that destroyed two homes.

In an open letter to Paso Robles, Keeling wrote this week that “protecting public health and safety is a priority for the Central Coast Water Board.”



“The residents of Paso Robles are justifiably concerned about the prospect of a catastrophic fire ravaging their community,” Keeling said. “We have been and continue to be committed to working with the city to address the significant fire problem along the Salinas River channel running through the city.”

Paso Robles’ short-term mitigation plan involves building a fire break in the riverbed by clearing vegetation along its bank. The city proposes using masticators, weed-whips, mowers, and chainsaws—mechanized equipment that the water board previously would not allow it to use without a long-term plan approved and in place.

The expedited plan is bigger in scope than what the city did last summer when it received an emergency permit from the water board for similar work, according to Paso.

Officials said the city and water board will continue to work together on a long-term, permanent fire mitigation plan for the riverbed that best protects both public safety and the environment.

“We’ll move ahead with both plans quickly,” Paso Mayor Steve Martin said in a June 29 video message to the community. “It is now my hope we can move past the logjam between the city of Paso Robles and the water board that put our community in danger.” ∆

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