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SLO County enhances Paso groundwater management 

For months, San Luis Obispo County Public Works Director Paavo Ogren has been stating the need for a “more robust AB 3030 plan” as a fundamental aspect of addressing the declining water levels in the Paso Robles groundwater basin.

Now, he’s got the green light. The Board of Supervisors approved on March 18 the formation of an enhanced groundwater management plan, giving the county increased powers in basin management. The supervisors, acting as the County Flood Control District, voted 4-1 to strengthen this management ability per a section of the California Water Code, commonly referred to as AB 3030.

The plan can give county officials more authority in funding projects and regulating groundwater pumping, seen by some as a necessary step in getting a handle on a dwindling water supply, and seen by others as yet another advancement in government control and unnecessary regulation.

In January, the supervisors approved the first part of a supplemental water feasibility study; in February, they approved with a tough 3-2 vote one step in the advancement of a proposed water district, still a hot topic.

The decision to move forward with strengthening management abilities came two weeks after the proposed water district—which, if approved by the state assembly and local voters, would take over some management authority—hit a potential hang up in Sacramento. The Paso Robles Basin Water District, proposed as a joint plan agreement between two overlier groups—Paso Robles Agriculture Alliance for Groundwater Solutions (PRAAGS) and Paso Robles groundwater basin Overliers for Water Equity (PRO Water Equity)—is an altered version of the standard California Water District. Because it’s different from the norm, special legislation must be passed before the application and approval process gets underway. That legislation has been caught up in review by the legislative counsel of the state assembly, where its legality is reportedly being examined.

The announcement from Sacramento drew a variety of interpretations continuing the steady, dissonant tune of widely mixed feelings about a prospective water district.

Critics said the stalling is a result of a flawed structure and political potholes left from the district’s controversial nature. Representatives of PRAAGS and PRO Water Equity, however, contend that this process is relatively standard in the drafting of legislation, and because this particular bill includes an original management structure, legislative counsel is taking an extra close look. At this time, what specifically is getting the fine-toothed comb or when legislative counsel will come up for air and offer feedback or recommendations remain unclear. Either way, according to a statement, the groups proposing the district say they will hold of on moving the application forward and wait until “the bill has been fully vetted by Legislative Counsel and [they] have greater clarity on how best to move forward.”

-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay

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