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Local agencies join to manage Atascadero groundwater 

Long-term local management of Atascadero groundwater is starting to take shape under the California Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).

On May 2, the SLO County Board of Supervisors entered into a memorandum of agreement with the Templeton Community Services District, Paso Robles, Atascadero, Atascadero Mutual Water Company, and a few other small water entities to form a Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) for the Atascadero basin.

Like all basins subject to SGMA’s requirements, members of the Atascadero GSA will have to work together to write a sustainability plan that ensures healthy groundwater levels for decades into the future.

Atascadero’s narrow sliver of aquifer—running from southern Paso to Santa Margarita—was initially considered to be part of the neighboring Paso Robles Groundwater Basin, but the state determined in October that it’s actually geologically separate from Paso’s.

“It allows us to develop a sustainability plan that really suits the Atascadero basin,” said John Neil, general manager of Atascadero Mutual Water Company.

Groundwater pumping over the basin is largely serving urban residents from Atascadero, Paso Robles, and Templeton.

An “executive committee” will serve as the governing body for the GSA and will comprise representatives from each participating agency. The committee’s voting powers and cost sharing will be weighted based on each agency’s water pumping levels and its land-use jurisdiction areas.

The costs for running the GSA and crafting a sustainability plan are estimated at $500,000 over the next five years. Atascadero Mutual Water Company will shoulder 43 percent of the cost, followed by the Templeton CSD (17 percent), city of Paso (22 percent), and SLO County (16 percent). Atascadero and other small water systems over the sub basin will pay only 1 percent of the cost.

SLO County’s share comes out to $16,000 per year, and it will likely be born by county general funds. A controversial Board of Supervisors’ vote in April determined that the costs of complying with SGMA will be the burden of the county, and not the property owners overlying the basins.

“I still object to the thought that the county general fund would fund that,” 2nd District Supervisor Bruce Gibson said at the May 2 meeting.

Board Chair John Peschong, who represents North County’s 1st District, recused himself from the vote because he owns property overlying the Atascadero basin.

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