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Supervisors oppose water district applications 

The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors sent a letter to the California Water Resources Control Board on May 4 formally opposing the Shandon-San Juan Water District's (SSJWD) two recent applications for water from Lake Nacimiento and Santa Margarita Lake—a move that puts two partners on the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin at odds with one another.

click to enlarge PRIVATE OR PUBLIC WATER? SLO County sent a letter to the state opposing the Shandon-San Juan Water District's efforts to secure water from Lake Nacimiento and Santa Margarita Lake. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • File Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • PRIVATE OR PUBLIC WATER? SLO County sent a letter to the state opposing the Shandon-San Juan Water District's efforts to secure water from Lake Nacimiento and Santa Margarita Lake.

In January, the SSJWD, which represents about 135,000 acres of irrigated agriculture east of Paso Robles, applied to the state for up to 28,000 acre-feet per year of mostly overspill flood water from the two reservoirs, which it proposes to pipe into the Shandon area for groundwater recharge. It filed the applications without collaborating with other agencies in the Paso Basin Cooperative Committee—a body tasked with balancing the overpumped aquifer—including SLO County.

Fifth District Supervisor Debbie Arnold, who led the Board of Supervisors in requesting that the opposition letter get agendized, said the project amounts to privatizing the Paso basin as it diverts water from two public resources.

"These facilities were built by public agencies for use by the public," Arnold said. "This water we're talking about now would be put into the ground and later recovered for agricultural use in their districts for their landowners and designees."

SSJWD members argue that their proposal would benefit the entire Paso basin and put it on a path to sustainability. Steve Sinton, a board member with SSJWD, said that the district kept the applications secret because it knew other agencies would also be interested in the reportedly available water.

"Already Monterey County has filed applications for expansions at Nacimiento," Sinton said.

Sinton added that SSJWD is trying to fulfill its duties to secure sustainable water sources—"something the county could've done but didn't."

"The county lost most of its water to Monterey County a long time ago, and we shouldn't be doing that again," he said.

Arnold countered that SSJWD members and their irrigating caused the basin's problems in the first place.

"The landowners of the SSJWD planted thousands of acres of grapes during the last drought. That happened," Arnold said.

First District Supervisor John Peschong and 4th District Supervisor Lynn Compton sided with Arnold in the vote. Peschong said he opposed the district's potential use of eminent domain to run pipeline across the basin.

Dissenting Supervisors Bruce Gibson and Dawn Ortiz-Legg, of the 2nd and 3rd Districts, respectively, said the opposition letter was reactive and premature.

"This is a big conversation that needs to happen," Ortiz-Legg said. "Without collaboration, I think we're in a very dark future ahead."

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