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Shandon-San Juan forms water district

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Frank Mecham, SLO County's 1st District Supervisor, remembers making the prediction.

It was March, and North County residents overlying the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin were gearing up to vote on a proposed water district that would have helped develop a plan to manage the basin under the state's Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).

"I thought, 'If this doesn't pass, we better be ready because there will be a bunch coming,'" Mecham told New Times.

The district proposal failed, and now Paso basin stakeholders only have until June 2017 to form a SGMA group made up of basin stakeholders, or else the state will step in. As a result, Mecham's prediction that a surge of smaller districts will vie for influence is proving accurate.

On Oct. 20, the SLO Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) approved an application for a Shandon-San Juan Water District, encompassing 71,000 acres and 64 residences around Shandon, a heavily agricultural region.

The district will have an "opt-in" format, meaning landowners within the district have a choice to be represented by the local district or by SLO County's Flood Control District. A date for the Proposition 218 vote to finance the district hadn't been announced as of press time.

Mecham said there are murmurs of more district proposals coming over the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin, including one representing the Creston community and another for the Estrella area.

Since March, the SLO County Flood Control District has assumed the coordinator role among the basin's stakeholders, with the goal of forming a SGMA group before the June deadline. That agency would then develop a Groundwater Sustainability Plan for the Paso basin by 2020.

Having so many districts and interests over one basin presents a challenge, Mecham said.

"If you have all these fragmented districts, you put yourself in a tough spot," Mecham said. "What has to happen is they have to be compatible with one another."

In other North County water news, the communities of Atascadero, Templeton, and Paso Robles let out sighs of relief on Oct. 18, when the state Department of Water Resources declared the Atascadero Groundwater Sub-Basin to be geologically separate from the Paso Robles basin.

That means the water agencies for those communities can develop their own sustainability plan distinct from Paso's. The Atascadero Sub-Basin has fared better during the drought than the larger Paso basin.

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