New Model for Groundwater Management in Rural-Agricultural Basins
County of San Luis Obispo
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California’s Central Coast Hydrologic Region relies on groundwater for approximately 80-percent of its water supply to serve rural, urban, agricultural, and environmental demands. San Luis Obispo County, one of six counties within this region, has 22 groundwater basins underlying 3,304 square miles of largely rural and agricultural lands. Historically, these groundwater basins have had no requirements to manage groundwater. However in January 2015, the State enacted its first major groundwater law –the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA)—that requires local agencies to establish governance structures in order to sustainably manage groundwater resources. Some groundwater basins have adequate existing local agencies capable of this task; others do not. This topic will briefly overview potential management strategies being considered in local basins. Speakers will focus discussion on a unique case study of a governance model developed by stakeholders in the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin (Paso Basin). Stakeholders in this basin worked with Assemblyman Achadjian to introduce AB2453, a bill which created the opportunity to form California’s first hybrid water district. The intent was to have a board of directors that reflected the unique demographics of the basin. Instead of a basin comprised solely of agricultural interests, the Paso basin has a diverse mix of rural residential, commercial wineries, irrigated agriculture (vineyards, deciduous fruit, forage crops & vegetables) and livestock.Traditional water districts board of directors are elected by landowners on a weighted ‘one acre-one vote’ methodology. AB2453 modifies this practice by instituting a hybrid nine member board reflective of the various land uses in the Paso Basin. Three members have to be registered voters living within the district boundary, and would be elected by registered voters living within the district boundary. The remaining six seats would be filled by landowners, but broken further into three categories of small (<40 acres), medium (40 – 400 acres) and large (>400 acres) landowners. These members would be elected by an acreage vote, similar to traditional water districts.Creation of the water district is subject to a formation vote by landowners and funding approval under Proposition 218. The water district application was reviewed by the Local Agency Formation Commission in order to establish boundaries and powers, and the landowner formation vote and Proposition 218 funding vote are scheduled for March 2016. At the time of the conference we will know the results of the elections, and will be able to discuss next steps based on those outcomes.