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Finished Paso basin sustainability plan awaits final approval 

Sidestepping continued grumbles from the agricultural industry, the Paso Robles Basin Cooperative Committee recommended final approval of a finished groundwater sustainability plan on Nov. 20, a move that precipitates its submission to the California Department of Water Resources.

click to enlarge COMPLETE A sustainability plan for the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin (pictured) is nearing the finish line. - IMAGE COURTESY OF THE PASO BASIN COOPERATIVE COMMITTEE
  • Image Courtesy Of The Paso Basin Cooperative Committee
  • COMPLETE A sustainability plan for the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin (pictured) is nearing the finish line.

The 20-year groundwater plan, required by state law, aims to bring the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin back into balance. Between 1981 and 2011, the 684-square-mile aquifer serving 29 percent of San Luis Obispo County residents and 40 percent of its agriculture lost 369,000 acre-feet of water.

The Cooperative Committee—with members from San Luis Obispo County, the Shandon-San Juan Water District, the city of Paso Robles, and the San Miguel CSD—voted unanimously on Nov. 20 to recommend that each member agency approve the plan.

"If you think about where we were two years ago and where we are today, we're in a pretty good place," said John Peschong, SLO County 1st District supervisor and chairperson of the Cooperative Committee.

While the sustainability plan moves forward, there's been a spike in controversy in recent weeks. In September, the California State Board of Food and Agriculture criticized SLO County in a letter alleging that ag industry members and their ideas were excluded from the plan's development. The letter echoed frustrations expressed by North County wine players, who warn that the plan's emphasis on pumping cutbacks instead of supplemental projects could imperil the local economy.

"There have been some capricious comments in this room about how well the grape growers can just cut back, they're a business; it's no big deal," said Patricia Wilmore, spokesperson for the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, at the Nov. 20 meeting. "The fact of the matter is, what happens in the grape growing and wine industry in this county has a tremendous impact throughout the county."

The schism has caused prominent vintners like Jerry Lohr, founder of J. Lohr Vineyards, to oppose the plan—"I'm not optimistic about what we're giving the state," Lohr told the Cooperative Committee—while critics of the wine industry and its impact on the basin have praised the approach.

Derrik Williams, the consultant hired to write the plan, said on Nov. 20 that the document "gives us a good direction for where we are going to go," and added that more work is ahead.

"I want to emphasize that there is still a lot ahead of us," Williams said. "Groundwater management is a long-term process."

If and when the agencies' individual boards approve the sustainability plan during meetings in December, it will get submitted to the California Department of Water Resources for final review. The Cooperative Committee will then be responsible for implementing the plan—a process that's expected to cost $7.8 million over the next five years. Δ

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