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New groundwater plan will help SLO Basin's water levels 

San Luis Obispo County approved a sustainable water plan that would help quench the unusually parched region and ensure its wells have enough water for years to come.

The county and the city of SLO greenlit the Groundwater Sustainability Plan on Dec. 7 for the San Luis Obispo Basin to counter the longstanding depleted water levels in the San Luis and Edna Valleys. These subbasins were identified by the California Department of Water Resources as some of the high- and medium-priority basins in SLO County in accordance with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). Other regions subject to SGMA include the Paso Robles and the Cuyama basins.

click to enlarge TAG TEAM SLO Basin management is a dual partnership where the county covers 70 percent of payments and the city of SLO covers 30 percent. - SCREENSHOT FROM THE SLO COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS MEETING PRESENTATION
  • Screenshot From The SLO County Board Of Supervisors Meeting Presentation
  • TAG TEAM SLO Basin management is a dual partnership where the county covers 70 percent of payments and the city of SLO covers 30 percent.

"Most communities in the county have groundwater as part of their water portfolio, so sustainable use of groundwater is important countywide," said Kate Ballantyne, the deputy director of SLO County Public Works. "The most critical takeaways would be that the basin has a very willing and engaged group of stakeholders who are working together to bring the basin into balance."

Drawn up by local agencies from the city and county called the Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSA), the plan is meant to alleviate groundwater depletion and bring equilibrium to the amount of water being used and deposited over the next 20 years. SLO Basin GSAs have to submit the approved plan to the state department by Jan. 31, 2022.

The state deemed the SLO Basin as "high priority." The city's deputy director of water, Mychal Boerman, underscored this status when he announced at the Dec. 7 City Council meeting that the groundwater level in the basin had dipped by 30 to 60 feet from spring 2011 to 2015.

"From the mid 1990s, there has been no recovery of groundwater level. There's continual decline due to the imbalance of pumping out of the basin and natural recharge into the basin. This is typical in the Edna Valley area," he said.

Boerman mentioned that the main aim of sustainability management is to prevent "undesirable results" like chronic lowering of groundwater levels, reduction of water storage, degraded water quality, surface water depletion, and the gradual sinking of land. Some ways to put a stop to these are to create a monitoring network that examines water level and quality, importing new water into the region through various projects, and more direct actions like pumping reductions for community members.

"They have identified a variety of projects that may improve their water supply. However, GSAs do have the authority to implement pumping limitation programs if sustainability is not being achieved in accordance with SGMA requirements," Ballantyne told New Times.

Her office will be transferring the responsibility of implementing the plan to a new agency called the Groundwater Sustainability Department (GSD) that the Board of Supervisors set up in September 2021. Both the Board of Supervisors and the SLO City Council approved the position of a plan manager as well. GSD Director Blaine Reely will be appointed to this new role.

"The Public Works Department will continue in their role of understanding conditions in unmanaged basins, identifying issue areas, and helping plan for solutions. Once solutions are identified, management and implementation of solutions transfer to the Groundwater Sustainability Department," Ballantyne said. Δ


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