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SLO County will create a new water resources division 

In response to an increasingly mounting workload dealing with all things water and wastewater, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors approved on Feb. 17 a reorganization of the public works department to create a new water resources division.

Currently, the department’s water resources personnel work under the utilities division, which has two distinct responsibilities that include wastewater and flood control management as well as water resources planning. The ongoing drought and rising challenges in managing water basins and water supplies throughout the county have brought an increase in workload for county staff, said Deputy Director of Public Works Mark Hutchinson.

“On top of that we see the responsibilities of the utilities division expanding before our eyes,” Hutchinson said, citing new programs and capital projects like the Los Osos Wastewater Project.

The reorganization, which was approved unanimously, will transfer 8 1/2 existing full-time equivalent positions to the new water resources division. One full-time position will be created to manage the division, costing $187,900 in salary and benefits. According to Hutchinson, the new position’s costs will be offset by the reduced use of outside consultants, making the reorganization cost-neutral to the county.

The supervisors also approved a temporary salary increase for Public Works Administrator John Diodati, who’s spearheading the Paso Robles basin district formation project. Diodati will receive a 15 percent salary increase to compensate him for what has become 60-hour work weeks as preparing the application package for a water district to manage the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin has been added to his normal duties. In October 2014, the supervisors directed county staff to prepare the application for submittal to the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO).

The county’s staff report identified two options for completing the district’s application: hiring a full-time manager or compensating Diodati for the extra ongoing work. The report stated “the second is most preferable because it’s substantially less costly, takes advantage of Mr. Diodati’s unique experience and abilities, and will result in a more timely process.”

The temporary salary increase is expected to last through the district’s formation vote, an estimated 12 to 14 months.

The possible formation of a water district has been a hotly contentious issue since it was first proposed in 2013 by a group of viticulturalists called Paso Robles Agricultural Alliance for Groundwater Solutions, or PRAAGS.

Supervisor Debbie Arnold objected to the proposed salary increase, saying she was uncomfortable with the ultimate goal of the staff time it would be paying for.

“I have all along told you that it’s fundamentally wrong for county government to apply to LAFCO to form another government,” Arnold said.

Supervisor Bruce Gibson, who has consistently supported the district and other management efforts for the Paso Robles basin, supported the increase.

“Mr. Diodati has a grasp on finance and government structure that is exceptional,” he said.

The salary increase passed with a 3-2 vote. Gibson and supervisors Adam Hill and Frank Mecham voted yes, while Arnold and Supervisor Lynn Compton voted no.

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

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