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State letter chides SLO County for diminished role of agriculture in groundwater plan 

The California State Board of Food and Agriculture called out San Luis Obispo County in a letter expressing concern about irrigated agriculture's "limited" involvement in crafting groundwater plans over the Paso Robles basin.

The Sept. 30 letter, addressed to 5th District Supervisor Debbie Arnold, stated that recent state department meetings in SLO drew "robust" feedback from farmers frustrated about how the county has crafted plans to comply with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

click to enlarge CALLED OUT The California State Board of Food and Agriculture called out SLO County and 5th District Supervisor Debbie Arnold in a letter focused on the lack of outreach to the local agricultural industry during groundwater planning. - IMAGE COURTESY OF THE CITY OF MORRO BAY
  • Image Courtesy Of The City Of Morro Bay
  • CALLED OUT The California State Board of Food and Agriculture called out SLO County and 5th District Supervisor Debbie Arnold in a letter focused on the lack of outreach to the local agricultural industry during groundwater planning.

According to the letter, signed by board President Don Cameron, the feedback centered on "a concern about the limited outreach and engagement of irrigated agriculture, which has substantial capital investments in the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin and the future business viability of the region."

"Because the state board has heard from so many people from the agricultural community in the Paso Roles area, ... we felt it important to reach out to you," it read.

The letter addressed the main point of conflict in basin planning between county officials and farmers: The county's emphasis on pumping reductions.

"Relying almost exclusively on groundwater pumping cutbacks is one solution," the letter read, "and every agriculturalist who has addressed the board acknowledges demand reduction must be a part of the plan, but not the sole option."

The letter added: "Given the extraordinary agri-culinary tourism industry the county has built, ... we are hopeful that the innovative, progressive farmers and ranchers in your community will have plentiful opportunities to engage in a transparent process develop solutions."

Supervisor Arnold did not respond to New Times' request for comment about the letter before press time.

The Paso Basin Cooperative Committee, which is writing the basin's 20-year sustainability plan, holds its next meeting on Oct. 23 at 4 p.m. in Paso Robles City Hall.

The county—represented by Arnold and 1st District Supervisor John Peschong—holds a more than 50 percent voting share on the committee. The Board of Supervisors accomplished that when it denied the Estrella-El Pomar-Creston Water District a seat on the committee in 2018—a move that drew widespread criticism from the ag industry.

Hilary Graves, vice president of the Estrella-El Pomar-Creston Water District, told New Times via email that its board "has definitely had concerns about the lack of outreach to agricultural stakeholders in the Paso Basin throughout the process of drafting the [sustainability plan]."

"Specifically we have been disappointed with the lack of meetings by the county as our [representing agency] to discuss potential solutions, collaborative efforts, and ideal outcomes with us," Graves wrote. "We are grateful to the [California Department of Food and Agriculture] for acknowledging our concerns and for pointing out that the economic and environmental well-being of our county depends on including agriculture in the process for bringing our basin to sustainability." Δ

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