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Paso Robles City Council votes to form Groundwater Sustainability Agency 

City Council

Paso Robles City Council passes resolution to create a Groundwater Management Agency.

State requires local management by June 30, 2017

-The Paso Robles City Council unanimously voted to form a Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) within the city limits at the Tuesday night council meeting. In his report to the council, Public Works Director Dick McKinley said the city overlies a portion of the Paso Robles sub-basin, which is subject to the 2014 California Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). The SGMA requires local management of groundwater by June 30, 2017 or the sub-basin may be subject to regulation by the California State Water Resources Control Board (DWR). McKinley said that as a “local agency” the city is authorized to form a GSA to manage groundwater within the boundaries of the city limits.

The council voted to form a GSA covering the jurisdictional boundaries of the city within the Paso Robles Sub-basin and excluding that portion of the city’s boundaries that overlie the Atascadero sub-basin. In October 2016 the DWR established the Atascadero sub-basin as a separate groundwater basin, defining the Rinconada Fault as a boundary.

Measure B-16, a measure to create a single GSA for the entire Paso Robles sub-basin was defeated by North County voters in a special election in March 2016. Since then, existing local agencies, including San Miguel Community Service District (CSD), Atascadero Mutual Water Company and the Templeton CSD have either formed or are forming GSAs to manage the groundwater within their jurisdictional boundaries. Private landowners are also organizing to form GSAs. The San Luis Obispo Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) is currently processing applications to form the Shandon-San Juan Water District and the Estrella-El Pomar-Creston Water District. McKinley said there are other landowners and communities, including Santa Margarita Ranch, Garden Farms, Spanish Lakes and Walnut Hills preparing to form their own agencies. McKinley said he expects that the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors will form a GSA for those areas of the county that are not in a GSA by the deadline.

John Peschong, representing San Luis Obispo County First District, said he is very much in favor of the county managing the Paso Robles sub-basin. Peschong said there are now three supervisors who are in favor of local management, the other two being Lynn Compton (Fourth District) and Debbie Arnold (Fifth District).

McKinley said the intention is to jointly enter into a Memorandums of Agreement to create a regional Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) that represents all of the individual agencies. The SGMA requires that GSPs be completed and submitted by 2020 and be sustainable by 2040.

McKinley

Public Works Director Dick McKinley presenting the Groundwater Management Agency plan to the city council.

The vote ensure that the city is in compliance with the SGMA, and gives the city the opportunity to enter into a Memorandum of Agreement with other GSAs. Such an agreement would allow all the GSAs in the region to cooperatively share costs and prepare a single GSP for the entire sub-basin. Forming a GSA for the city provides the opportunity to apply for groundwater program grants and ensures the city’s control over fees and assessments.

Steve Baker, owner of Circle B Vineyard and Cellars, was concerned about how the new GSA would effect his vineyard and water use. “I’m in the county, but surrounded on three sides by city limits.” Circle B Road runs between Golden Hill and Buena Vista Drive on the north side of Highway 46. McKinley said the SGMA allows for individuals to annex to an existing GSA, but does not give the GSA any enforcement authority over landowners not within the jurisdiction. In a private interview Baker said that he would consider annexing with the city if it gives him protection from state management.

When asked how the city forming a GSA would affect the outcome of the Quiet Title Lawsuit filed by the group Protect our Water Rights (POWER), McKinley said, “That lawsuit is about completely different jurisdictional issues.” The lawsuit was filed in 2013 and is still active in Santa Clara Superior Court. A call to Cindy Steinbeck, a spokesperson for POWER has not yet been returned.

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About the author: Reporter Jackie Iddings

Jackie Iddings is a contributing reporter and photographer for the Paso Robles Daily News.

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