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County becomes groundwater agency for Paso and Santa Maria basins

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On May 16, the SLO County Board of Supervisors approved resolutions to become Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) for large swaths of the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin and fringes of the Santa Maria Valley Groundwater Basin under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).

The aquifers are just two of six local basins that the county is assuming some management and financial responsibility for, to the tune of $2 million in the next fiscal year, according to the county’s recommended 2017-18 budget.

Passed by the state in 2014, SGMA requires that users of stressed groundwater basins across the state form GSAs by June 30, and write sustainability plans by 2020.

The county’s decision to subsidize SGMA compliance for landowners in unincorporated areas remains the subject of intense debate. In April, the board voted 3-2 to make a policy change that effectively removed the financial burden of SGMA from landowners and allocates general county funds to pay for it instead.

“I’m happy you’re stepping up for those landowners,” Shandon landowner Ann Myhre said to the board. “This is what we have been asking for from the beginning of the passage of SGMA.”

The county will share management responsibility of the Paso basin—which at 790 square miles is the biggest in the county—with the city of Paso Robles, San Miguel Community Services District (CSD), the Heritage Ranch CSD, and the newly formed Shandon-San Juan Water District.

Another water district, the Estrella-El Pomar-Creston (EPC) Water District, is still in the process of forming and hopes to be involved as a GSA, even though it will miss the June deadline. If let in by the county and other GSAs, the EPC Water District would provide 33 percent of Paso basin management funding. If it’s left out, the county would take on an increased 57 percent cost share of what’s expected to be a multi-million-dollar effort over the next 20 years.

Residents and supervisors asked county staff for an itemization of where the SGMA funds will be coming from and what the budgetary trade-offs are. The county’s budget hearings will take place June 12 to 14.

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