County Supervisors are supposed to vote next week to form a “Groundwater Sustainability Agency,” that would govern the so-called “non-adjudicated portions of the Los Osos Valley Groundwater Basin,” essentially, areas east of town in Los Osos Valley and up Pecho Valley Road to Montana de Oro.
Supervisors will consider whether to form the new agency, which is required under a new State law, the “Sustainable Groundwater Management Act,” or SGMA, at their Tuesday, April 4 meeting.
Among the issue that must also be dealt with in order to form the water agency is the financing.
The groundwater management act requires “formation of new groundwater management entities [i.e., GSAs], and development and implementation of groundwater sustainability plans over all high and medium priority basins, as designated by the State.
“The State [water board] designated the Los Osos Valley Groundwater Basin as a high priority basin subject to critical conditions of overdraft.”
This new agency will not affect the town of Los Osos, which gets its water from the CSD, Golden State Water and S&T Mutual, which along with SLO County, are already operating under a groundwater management agreement that was adjudicated in court.
That town portion of the basin has been declared in overdraft since the early 1990s and is seeing extensive seawater intrusion, and the agencies are already implementing a plan to better manage the basin and combat seawater intrusion. Groundwater is the only source of drinking water for Los Osos.
The non-adjudicated areas of the basin, are mostly open space and farmlands, and are sparsely populated.
The management systems or agreements must be established in each basin no later than June 30 or “any uncovered areas will be subject to mandatory extraction reporting [including payment of the accompanying fees] to the State,” reads the County’s March 7 staff report on the GSMA, “and the whole basin will be at risk for additional forms of State intervention, in addition to the local SGMA efforts and costs.”
That means that the County is the sole “agency eligible to act as the GSA in the Los Osos Valley Basin ‘fringe areas.’
There’s a total of four over-drafted groundwater basins in SLO County that don’t have water agencies to oversee them — the Cuyama, Los Osos, Paso Robles, SLO, Santa Maria and Atascadero water basins.
The County estimates that overall, to develop management plans for all the basins will run more than $16.3 million. The County Flood Control and Water Conservation District is on the hook for $5.3M of that total and $4.8M for other governmental agencies or private water purveyors. That leaves property owners in these areas on the hook for some $6.1M.
With respects to the Los Osos basin, the “development phase” is estimated to cost $3.2 million of which the Flood Control District would pay $840,000, with the effected property owners responsible for the remaining $ 2.3M.
On an annual basis, the new Los Osos management district would cost some $792,000 a year for three years while the management plan is being implemented. After that, it would need some $250,000 a year to manage the program’s reporting requirements. Such costs would likely be added to the property tax bills and apportioned depending on some yet-to-be-determined formula.