Water challenges impacted the County of San Luis Obispo Board of Supervisors agendas more than any other single issue in 2014.
Throughout the year, the County worked to better understand and address its water challenges and develop sustainable near-term and long-term solutions. These water challenges included:
1. Its geographic location and conditions. The County is a relatively dry area of California and is subject to uncertain and highly variable hydrologic conditions.
2. Water supply and demand imbalances. Increased competition for finite water supplies coupled with the constantly changing and growing agricultural, urban, and environmental water demands create a challenging planning environment. Local surface water supplies are limited, and imported water supplies (i.e., State Water Project) are expensive and subject to hydrologic variability. Groundwater has been relied upon too heavily, leading to the need for increased and sustainable management to maintain both water quantity and quality.
3. Lack of funding. With a low and dispersed population, the region has a limited ability to generate local funding to develop new projects and faces challenges in identifying regional opportunities to take advantage of economies of scale.
4. Limiting regulations. Regulatory requirements/processes, and permitting constraints have limited potential project opportunities, such as desalination.
Unfortunately, the region and state was also plagued by the worst drought on record in 2014, magnifying existing water issues at the local level. As a response to the drought conditions, the County formed a Drought Task Force with representatives from a variety of County departments and agencies who were tasked with monitoring drought conditions and developing appropriate responses.
In March 2014, the Board of Supervisors proclaimed a local drought emergency at the recommendation of the Drought Task Force, which then began providing monthly updates to the Board and the public with the latest drought conditions and water management actions.
Play this video to watch Water Summit 2014.
The County’s Drought Task Force developed a number of survey tools and utilized data sources to monitor drought conditions, assess impacts on the local community, respond to health and safety emergencies, and communicate with the public.
In October 2014, the Drought Task Force held Water Summit 2014 to report on the drought conditions, challenges and response plans based on countywide data it collected throughout the year, and continues to collect. Staff also addressed water issues with both a short-term and long-term approach in 2014.
The following near-term actions addressed the immediate impacts of drought conditions facing the County. In 2014, County staff:
• Established emergency back-up plans should a community run out of water.
• Prepared for extreme fire conditions and developed plans that identified alternative water supplies to fight fires in certain areas in the event of a potential shortage of water.
• Reduced water usage at county facilities, parks and grounds. A water audit site visit was conducted with a focus on water efficiency opportunities at County facilities, parks, and golf courses. To date, 38 buildings have been retrofitted with low-flow fixtures, saving an estimated 3,500 gallons per week.
• Identified high-risk areas and created regional plans to address concerns in various communities, including Cambria, San Simeon, Heritage Ranch, Santa Margarita, and the Chorro Valley institutions (County Jail, Juvenile Hall, California Men’s Colony, Cuesta College, and the County Office of Education).
• Identified companies that provide potable water for residents whose wells are running dry.
• Provided information resources to farmers and ranchers.
“To date, 38 buildings have been retrofitted with low-flow fixtures, saving an estimated 3,500 gallons per week.”
The County focused on longer-term actions to address imbalances in water supply and demand. In 2014, staff focused on a number of long-term actions, some of which have continued into 2015. These included, but are not limited to:
• Identifying the highest-risk groundwater basins in the County (Level of Severity III basins).
• Implementing the Paso Robles groundwater urgency ordinance, which requires increased water use for new development or irrigated agriculture be offset (water neutral).
• Implementing water offset programs for new developments in multiple areas within the County.
• Providing input and closely tracked State legislation that was recently passed (the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014) that requires more rigorous groundwater management. Implementation efforts are underway.
• Creating plans to best utilize our surface water (reservoirs).
• Conducting studies to identify options for additional water supply to the County.
• Preparing a resolution and accompanying application materials for submittal to Local Agency Formation Commission for the formation of the Paso Robles Basin Water District.
• Updating countywide water conservation measures.
As drought conditions and water issues persist in our region, County staff and elected officials will continue to forge ahead and develop solutions for the community that will last.