The city councils in Buellton and Solvang decided in separate decisions over the past week to work together in the formation of a new groundwater sustainability agency, or GSA.
The formation of the agency follows new state regulations that allow purveyors to either form GSAs by June 30, 2017, or yield control to the state.
By requiring the development of such agencies, the state hopes to avoid problems such as an unreasonable depletion of water supplies, adverse impacts on surface water, a reduction in water quality and seawater intrusion.
The Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District, Improvement District No. 1, has also approved the initiative, and will be working collaboratively with Buellton and Solvang to form the collective agency.
Bruce Wales, general manager of the Conservation District, told the Buellton City Council on March 24 that it was imperative for the purveyors to start working together as soon as possible.
“We have to organize ourselves in some way in order to manage locally our groundwater basin," Wales said. “A groundwater sustainability agency must be formed in each basin, and that agency must be a public agency or a group of public agencies.”
Overall, seven different purveyors could join the GSA, including Santa Barbara County, the Mission Hills Community Services District, the Vandenberg Village Community Services District, and Lompoc, in addition to Buellton, Solvang, and Improvement District No. 1.
“I’m hoping by April 5, the draft (memorandum of understanding) in concept is approved and then we have the task of working with seven attorneys to work out only a few words I hope here and there, so we can get rolling,” Wales said.
If the purveyors fail to form the GSA, they run the risk of having the state take control of the groundwater sustainability.
“We must do that by June 2017 or the state moves in,” Wales said.
Buellton’s Public Works Director, Rose Hess, said she favored the formation of a GSA, as the city’s doesn’t “have the capacity to do our own.”
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Worried that the city might lose some power over its own water supply, Councilwoman Holly Sierra asked for clarification that that would not be the case.
“Water is gold, and I would hate to have Buellton get into a predicament where we’re losing water that we have no control (over), that we’re outvoted or something like that,” Sierra said. “That’s not what this would do, correct?”
Wales said forming the GSA is “how you get self-determination expressed to the maximum degree.”
He also clarified that the memorandum of understanding was just to see whether the different purveyors could work together in forming the GSA.
“What you will be considering tonight is a nonbinding (memorandum of understanding), which is simply designed to test interest and willingness to cooperate to move forward to work out some of the parameters over the next 13 to 15 months so that we can form a GSA,” Wales said.
In Solvang, Councilman Neill Zimmerman asked Wales at Monday's meeting how he thought the responsibilities would be divided.
“We’ll come together relatively quickly hopefully as equals and begin to talk about how we would form the GSA and that will get into the much more intriguing aspects of how it will actually work,” Wales said. “Because there will have to be a number of things decided in terms of relative influence and that sort of thing.”
Solvang Councilman Hans Duus was concerned about costs associated with the initiative, especially given that Solvang is already technically a part of Improvement District No. 1.
“Somehow or another, since we are part of ID1, will the citizens of Solvang not pick up a portion of ID1s costs also, as well as those that can be attributed directly to Solvang,” Duus asked.
Solvang acts as its own purveyor but its boundaries are within the Improvement District and its water is occasionally delivered through the district.
“It will cost the citizens of Solvang, that’s my only comment,” Duus said. “I’m in full agreement on this; this is something we need to do, it’s just … it seems like Solvang gets to pay a little bit more for a lot of different things than the rest of the valley does.”
Both the city of Lompoc and the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors are expected to consider the issue April 5.
NOTE: The Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District is separate entity from the Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District, Improvement District No. 1. Bruce Wales is the general manager of the Conservation District, and not Improvement District No. 1.
Kenny Lindberg covers Santa Barbara County for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter.