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SLO County supervisors consider extending a Paso Robles Groundwater Basin urgency ordinance 

After making a tough 4-0 vote to approve a temporary urgency ordinance intended to slow water overdrafting from the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin, the SLO County Board of Supervisors is about to do it again and decide whether to continue the ordinance for two years or to leave it dead in the water.

At their Oct. 1 meeting, the supervisors will consider extending an urgency ordinance passed in late August, put into place as a temporary relief to a groundwater basin that’s seen declining water levels in recent years, leaving some wells dry and many residents and agriculturalists worrying. The supervisors initially approved the ordinance—which bans new water use from the basin, with some exemptions—on Aug. 27 for 45 days.

The Paso Robles Groundwater Basin serves a vast section of the North County, and the vineyard industry in particular has received a lot of attention as a planting boom has led to thousands of acres popping up in vines in recent years, with thousands more to come. As proposed, the ordinance will prohibit new wells and increased irrigation. While there are different opinions among residents and agriculturists for what direction to take in the long term to address the basin’s decline, namely on how to manage demand and obtain supplemental water, there’s widespread agreement that this particular urgency ordinance is needed in the interim.

“It’s a necessary time-out to give us all a chance to develop a groundwater management structure,” said Sue Luft, president of PRO Water Equity, a group of concerned residents—many of whom have seen their wells go dry—atop the basin.

Another group formed to address the issue, Paso Robles Agricultural Alliance for Groundwater Solutions (PRAAGS), has also told New Times that they’re supportive of the urgency ordinance, as they realize that an over-demand on the basin needs to be addressed. PRAAGS wants to create a California Water District, one form of a management district to oversee water usage and costs for piping in supplemental water.

Both PRO Water Equity and PRAAGS presented their ideas for a management district at the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin Blue Ribbon Commission Steering Committee meeting on Sept. 19 in Paso Robles. At the same meeting, all members of the commission—in which both groups are represented and which includes stakeholders from across the basin—briefly acknowledged that they will be in favor of the supervisors continuing the urgency ordinance for a full two years.

PRAAGS has filed a petition for the formation of the Paso Robles Basin Water District, a move that concerns PRO Water Equity because it will favor large land owners, said Luft, who hopes the two groups can find common ground and agree on something that works for everyone.

PRAAGS may be open to the idea, but much more needs to be hashed out.

“It appears that the basis for a compromise might be there, but we’re a ways away from it,” said Jerry Reaugh, PRAAGS chairman.

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

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