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State water board worries Paso Robles groundwater decline will impact domestic wells

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As North County water stakeholders wait for the state's approval of a 20-year Paso Robles Groundwater Basin sustainability plan, the State Water Resources Control Board recently expressed concerns about whether that plan does enough to reverse the basin's decline and protect domestic well users.

The water board's Dec. 8 comments list several qualms about the basin and the plan, including that shallower domestic wells could "experience substantial impacts" if groundwater trends continue. It says the plan does not address the extent to which domestic wells—as well as public water systems—could be impacted.

WATER WORRIES State water officials are concerned about the impacts of groundwater decline over the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin. - FILE PHOTO
  • File Photo
  • WATER WORRIES State water officials are concerned about the impacts of groundwater decline over the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin.

According to the state's comments, half of the domestic wells in a UC Berkeley monitoring network in the basin would see "partial or full dewatering" if groundwater levels declined to their "minimum thresholds"—or the lowest acceptable water levels outlined in the sustainability plan.

The comments acknowledge that the basin is a "challenging situation"—stating that much of it is headed for those minimum thresholds over the next several years unless officials progress "quickly with projects and management actions."

The board urged Paso stakeholders to investigate the threats to domestic wells as well as its other concerns—like planning for worse impacts due to climate change—and move forward expeditiously with solutions.

"Board staff recommend that the [local agencies] move forward aggressively with projects now," the comments read.

In response to the feedback, local stakeholders said they are taking the comments under consideration. Fifth District SLO County Supervisor Debbie Arnold told New Times that "we agree that we absolutely want to get the basin back to sustainability."

She said that it's going to require a reduction in groundwater pumping from the major agricultural players over the basin, adding that she hopes it can be accomplished through "better management practices."

"Hopefully everyone understands that we need a reduction," she said.

Agricultural leaders of two North County water districts told New Times that SLO County must extend its water neutrality ordinance over the basin, which has helped flatten the curve of groundwater decline, according to Matt Turrentine, a board member on the Shandon-San Juan Water District and manager of investment vineyards.

Dana Merrill, a board member on the Estrella-El Pomar-Creston Water District, said that the basin's stakeholders should work to expand the well monitoring network, develop a fallowing program, pursue supplemental water projects, and apply for more grants.

"We agree that it's time to get moving forward with a clear strategy," Merrill said. ∆

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