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Supervisors react to ag board letter

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San Luis Obispo County supervisors offered their reactions on Oct. 22 to a recent California State Board of Food and Agriculture letter that levied criticism against the county's approach to groundwater management in Paso Robles.

The Sept. 30 ag board letter shared concerns about "limited" ag industry involvement in developing sustainability plans for the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin, as part of complying with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).

At the SLO County Board of Supervisors' Oct. 22 meeting, North County Supervisors Debbie Arnold (5th District) and John Peschong (1st District) defended the county's efforts—including a decision last year to deny the Estrella-El Pomar-Creston Water District a seat on the committee that's crafting the Paso sustainability plan.

"You're forgetting the history behind our over-pumped basin," Arnold said. "We heard very clearly in [a 2016 basin-wide water district election] that the vast majority of our landowners and agriculturalists in the basin chose to have the county water district working on this groundwater sustainability plan."

But Herb Rowland, a director at the Estrella-El Pomar-Creston Water District, argued during public comment that denying the district a formal role violated "the spirit that SGMA was crafted" with.

"This document [the sustainability plan] was completed without significant input from the agricultural stakeholders in our community," Rowland said. "To state the obvious, this letter is evidence that it was a bad policy decision."

Patricia Wilmore, speaking on behalf of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, told the board that the state's letter "highlights the frustration that we have felt in getting involved in this process."

"We have been asking for more focused involvement from the beginning," she said.

Supervisor Peschong contended that Paso's SGMA process has allowed for adequate industry input and said he's met with "close to 100 farmers on their land to discuss their water issues."

"I'm actually very proud of the outreach and the ability for everyone to comment and weigh in," Arnold added. "It's been a fair process."

Supervisors Adam Hill (3rd District) and Bruce Gibson (2nd District) said the letter concerned them and they questioned Arnold and Peschong's leadership on the issue.

"When you get a letter that talks about the fact that people aren't even allowed to truly participate and are being shut out, that is a concern," Hill said. "To favor some to the exclusion of others is not following the intent of [SGMA]."

SLO County administrators said they plan to prepare a response letter to the ag board, which supervisors will vote on at their next meeting. Δ

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