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North County water districts unhappy with direction of Paso basin plan 

Officials from North County's two water districts vented frustrations about the latest draft of a Paso Robles Groundwater Basin sustainability plan at a joint meeting held at J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines on March 19, calling its target for a 29 percent reduction in basin pumping unreasonable and economically dangerous.

The districts—Shandon-San Juan Water District and Estrella-El Pomar-Creston Water District—represent some of the biggest agricultural players in the North County and more than 150,000 acres of land.

click to enlarge SUSTAINABLE DEBATE North County's two water districts, which represent many of Paso Robles' biggest winery owners, took issue with a draft Paso groundwater basin sustainability plan on March 20. - PHOTO BY PETER JOHNSON
  • Photo By Peter Johnson
  • SUSTAINABLE DEBATE North County's two water districts, which represent many of Paso Robles' biggest winery owners, took issue with a draft Paso groundwater basin sustainability plan on March 20.

Shandon-San Juan Water District is one of the four local agencies that has a vote on the Paso Basin Cooperative Committee, which is collectively drafting a 20-year sustainability plan for the sprawling basin as required by state law.

District leaders unanimously disputed the groundwater levels that were set as "minimum thresholds" in the draft plan. Minimum thresholds are the lowest groundwater levels that would be considered acceptable in the plan.

"We all want water levels to rise, but that's not a realistic target," said Matt Turrentine, a Shandon-San Juan Water District board member and manager of Harvard Endowment's vineyards.

Some of the plan's minimum thresholds were set above where current well levels sit.

"I think the starting point is the problem," said Shandon area farmer Randy Diffenbaugh. "We don't want to start on parole or probation."

The districts' boards agreed to advocate for new minimum thresholds in the plan that are 75 feet below 2017 groundwater levels. They added that the plan's "measurable objective"—which is more of a target number—should be set at current water levels.

Discontentment ran deep enough among Shandon board members that they also discussed the option of withdrawing from the multi-agency committee to craft their own sustainability plan.

The basin's plan is due to the state in January 2020. Revisions to the current draft plan will be released again in April.

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