Santa Maria River Valley Groundwater Basin fringe areas

A portion of a map prepared by the Santa Barbara County Public Works Department shows the adjudicated Santa Maria River Valley Groundwater Basin, center, and its unadjudicated "fringe" areas in blue. Santa Barbara County may ask to remove the light blue areas along the Cuyama and Sisquoc rivers and Tepusquet Creek from the state-defined basin. The dark blue fringe areas are in San Luis Obispo County.

Contributed Photo

A proposal to remove “fringe” areas from the Santa Maria River Valley Groundwater Basin is among the issues Santa Barbara County supervisors will consider Tuesday when they receive a status report on managing groundwater basins.

The Board of Supervisors will be asked to set a public hearing for the May 8 meeting to consider asking the state for a modification in the groundwater basin’s boundaries to remove the fringe areas.

Those consist of small spots along the east side of the Cuyama River south of the Twitchell Reservoir, a finger stretching northward along Tequsquet Creek and a longer reach along the Sisquoc River.

Larger fringe areas are located on the north side of the Santa Maria River in San Luis Obispo County.

According to a staff report prepared by Matt Young, water resources manager for the County Public Works Department, the fringe areas are considered part of the Santa Maria River Valley Groundwater Basin by the State Department of Water Resources but are not part of the adjudicated basin.

The adjudicated groundwater basin boundaries were determined in a lawsuit over landowners’ water rights that was filed in 1997 and settled with a stipulated judgment in 2005, although appeals drew the case out until 2013.

Except for some reporting requirements, adjudicated basins are not subject to the provisions of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act that require the formation of a groundwater sustainability agency and development of a groundwater sustainability plan.

But as part of the Santa Maria basin, which is designated a medium-priority basin, the fringe areas are subject to the act’s provisions, even though historically it appears those areas have seen very little groundwater use or agricultural production, according to Young’s staff report.

Young said by agreeing to form groundwater sustainability agencies for the fringe areas, the county did not commit to preparing groundwater sustainability plans but did avoid immediate impacts on area landowners.

“Water Agency staff have been in frequent communication with representatives of the State Water Resources Control Board and DWR regarding options to avoid preparing a full (groundwater sustainability plan), including relying on existing reports provided by the agencies managing the adjudicated portions of the basins,” Young said.

“State staff have been encouraging about the potential for alternative reporting requirements, but have been unwilling to commit to anything formal to date,” he said.

“Based on preliminary reviews of the geology and water use in the fringe areas, a boundary modification to remove some of the fringe areas from the basin appears to be appropriate.”

If supervisors concur, the County Water Agency staff will prepare technical information supporting the boundary modification, hold a public meeting with fringe area stakeholders and coordinate with San Luis Obispo County, which also plans to submit a modification request.

Young said the staff expects to bring the final boundary modification request to the board for approval prior to the DWR’s June 30 deadline.

The Goleta Groundwater Basin is also a previously adjudicated basin with fringe areas.

“Based on a preliminary review of basin geology, a basin boundary revision to remove some of these areas … is unlikely to be successful,” Young said, noting the county staff will work with the state agencies to avoid or minimize the preparation of a groundwater sustainability plan for those areas.

The report supervisors will hear Tuesday will include summaries of work done to date on forming groundwater sustainability agencies and developing sustainability plans for the medium-priority Santa Ynez River Valley Groundwater Basin and San Antonio Creek Valley Groundwater Basin and the medium-priority but critically overdrafted Cuyama Valley Groundwater Basin.

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News Editor

Mike Hodgson is news editor at the Santa Ynez Valley News, where he writes about local government, special events and the people who live in the Valley. He has been a photographer, writer, news editor and managing editor at weekly newspapers since 1972

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