Morning at Santa Margarita Lake. Photo by Scott Stellar.

Three-year Drought Emergency Lifted, County Calls for Continued Conservation

Author: Whitney Szentesi, Communications Analyst
Date: 5/23/2017 3:24 PM

San Luis Obispo County no longer faces a local drought emergency, but the region still faces local imbalances in water supply and demand.

San Luis Obispo County no longer faces a local drought emergency, but the region still faces local imbalances in water supply and demand, officials say.

The County Board of Supervisors agreed during its public meeting on May 23 to adopt a resolution terminating the proclamation of local drought emergency made on March 11, 2014.

“Although the local emergency has been lifted, it will take us years to fully recover from the five-year drought,” said County Administrative Officer Dan Buckshi. “There are ongoing imbalances in water supply and demand that affect our local communities. That is why we must continue to make water conservation a part of our daily lives.”

The region has gone from the most intense drought rating in March 2014 to the least intense drought rating in May 2017, according to a County staff report. Frequent, large storms this fall and winter eased drought conditions in SLO County and across California. As a result, local reservoir levels have increased, but groundwater supplies have not fared as well.  

“Because most areas of SLO County depend on groundwater for everything from irrigation to drinking water, we face a significant challenge in sustainable groundwater management,” said County Administrative Analyst Lisa Howe, who led the County’s Drought Task Force. “As water issues persist in our region, County staff and elected officials will continue to forge ahead and develop solutions for the community.”

Ending the local emergency proclamation is consistent with Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr.’s April 7 action to end the drought state of emergency in most of California, Howe said.

On March 11, 2014, the Board adopted a resolution proclaiming a local emergency due to drought conditions in the county. Immediately afterward, County Administrative Officer Dan Buckshi formed a Drought Task Force to coordinate activities to address drought impacts locally.

In the past three years, the Drought Task Force took more than 30 actions to address the drought, with a focus on six key areas:

  1. Helping local farmers receive financial assistance from the federal government via a USDA Secretarial Disaster Designation.
  2. Monitoring retail or wholesale water supply services provided by the County.
  3. Reducing water usage at County-owned facilities, which helped save an estimated 4,500 gallons of water per week.
  4. Raising public awareness about water supply issues and encouraging water-reduction activities in local communities.
  5. Providing the Board of Supervisors with an update on drought conditions every 30 days, for a total of 47 reports, to review the need for a continued emergency.
  6. Reducing the increased fire danger posed by dead and dying trees across San Luis Obispo County.

Prior to the proclamation, San Luis Obispo County had experienced below normal levels of precipitation for the previous three rainy seasons. This significantly impacted the community in a variety of ways, including reduced agricultural production, drinking water shortages, declines in water quality, threats to wildlife, and fire dangers. It was due to these conditions and related concerns that the Board of Supervisors proclaimed a local emergency on March 11, 2014.

The County will continue to focus on long-term actions to address the continued water supply and demand imbalances. Those actions include: 
• Creating plans for how to best utilize our surface water (reservoirs) 
• Conducting studies to identify options for additional water supply to the County
• Pursuing Proposition 1 grant funding opportunities for water supply projects
• Coordinating efforts to meet the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) requirements