The ordinance places new regulations on farmers who rotate crops

NORTH COUNTY — San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors approved the adoption of a new Paso Basin Planting Ordinance. The new ordinance was greatly opposed by the San Luis Obispo County Farm Bureau, SLO County Cattleman’s Association, Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, and SLO County Planning Commission, among others. 

Background on the Paso Basin Planting Ordinance

Three years in the making, the new ordinance comes forth to rectify the current ordinance. The purpose of the ordinance was to bring the county into Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) compliance in 2013 and then was semi-permanently adopted in 2015.

The 2015 ordinance defines “sites that do not have any existing crop production and are not within the area of severe decline (50 feet or greater Spring Groundwater Elevation Change 1997-2013) may be eligible for a one-time only de minimis exemption. The one-time only de minimis exemption is limited to the establishment of crop production representing a new total of no more than 5.0 AF per year per site. If a one-time only de minimis exemption is granted, the resulting crop production cannot be used as a source of Agricultural Offset Clearance credits in any future application.”

The ordinance limits irrigated farmland and does not apply to dry land farms. 

The New Paso Basin Planting Ordinance

At a glance, the ordinance will limit farmers to 25 acre-feet per year (AFY) for the next 22 years and will allow new irrigated crops to be planted. However, the ordinance comes with several regulations seemingly unrelated to water itself.

Several Paso Basin farmers appeared in person to the SLO County Board of Supervisors meeting to oppose the new ordinance. Paso Robles Press/Atascadero News spoke with several of these farmers, who issued their concerns are with the regulations within the ordinance that are their main concern.

With the ordinance comes additional regulations for farmers and ranchers: 

  • A new and unprecedented Greenhouse Gas and Carbon Sequestration mandate to plant crops
  • New county requirement to hire a geologist to perform a hydrology report before planting crops. 
  • A new 50-foot setback from riparian and wetland areas (includes intermittent blue-line streams);
  • Mandatory reporting of monthly irrigation water usage to the county (records may be public)
  • A new Dust Control regulation with things like paving farm roads and installing speed bumps along fields

Any farmer or rancher in the Paso Basin who rotates to a different irrigated crop each year/season will be subject to the new ordinance. But, any same crop and acreage that has been in production within six years preceding March 1, 2023, would be exempted — it is not clarified if the exemption goes away if the replanting happens in a site that has not been cultivated within the last 10 years.

The SLO County Planning Commission recommended the supervisors not adopt the ordinance as written. Instead, it recommended extending “the current offset ordinance until January 1, 2028, or until achievement of a milestone tied to the GSP sustainable management criteria.”

Only Districts 1 and 5 are affected by the Paso Basin, and their representing supervisors, Debbie Arnold (District 5) and John Peschong (District 1), voted in favor of the ordinance. Supervisors Bruce Gibson and Dawn Ortiz-Legg opposed the ordinance as written and voted against it. Ultimately, District 4 Supervisor Lynn Compton voted in favor of the ordinance but not without pointing some of its flaws — including the majority of farmers not being in favor of it.

The Reaction

In reaction to the new ordinance adoption, Paso Robles Press/Atascadero News received the following statement from SLO County Farm Bureau Executive Director Brent Burchett:

“We want to thank all the Farm Bureau members who submitted comments and spoke out against the Planting Ordinance. 

Due to Farm Bureau’s work, people are waking up to what this Planting Ordinance actually means for their livelihood and the future of agriculture. We saw a prime example of this during the public comment period today when a farmer said he came to the meeting in support of the ordinance but changed his mind after hearing testimony from other farmers.

SLO County Board of Supervisors now have the dubious honor of creating the first-ever Greenhouse Gas and Carbon Sequestration mandate for planting crops in the United States along with a host of other new bureaucratic red tape and regulations. I understand the good intentions of the Supervisors who supported this ordinance, but it’s a sad day for agriculture.

The vote did not go like we hoped, and we owe it to our farmers and ranchers to fully consider a legal challenge to the Planting Ordinance. As farmers are going to be stuck with these five terrible new Mitigation Measures until 2045, the stakes for SLO County’s agricultural community are too high not to do everything we can.”

You can find the Farm Bureau’s letter and information on the ordinance here: 

The Supervisors agenda and ordinance can be found here:

Paso Robles Press/Atascadero News is following this story and will update as new information is available.