No CEQA for SLO County Agriculture

April 7, 2021

Farm Bureau Leads Charge to Keep CEQA Out of SLO County Agriculture

Three months of lobbying by San Luis Obispo County Farm Bureau to remove a controversial provision from the County's new proposed Paso Basin Planting Ordinance culminated with a big win at Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting. Thank you to all of our Farm Bureau members and industry partners who helped push for this pivotal change.

Supervisors struck the "Tier 3" provision which would have required farmers to get a discretionary permit for new crop plantings using more than 25 acre-feet per year of water without an offset of existing crops. The now-removed Tier 3 would have been the first time in SLO County's history that farmers would have to undergo a costly California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review to plant crops.

Here's a summary of the resolution approved by the County Board of Supervisors on April 6, 2021 that directed staff to:

1) Develop a planting ordinance for the Paso Basin (defined using the Fugro boundary map, excluding the Atascadero Sub-basin) to be effective until 2045 with a two-tier framework.

  • Tier 1 is an exemption allowing plantings using 25 acre-feet per year of irrigation per site (defined as contiguous parcels under common ownership).
  • Tier 2 requires ministerial approval for plantings maintaining neutral water use on site (1-1 offset) with a 6-year lookback period.
  • The ordinance is to NOT include a third tier discretionary permit requiring CEQA review; as a result, there is no mechanism / option to approve / allow new plantings not falling within Tier 1 or Tier 2.

2) Bring an ordinance amendment to extend the Agricultural Offset Requirements to June 1, 2022.

3) Include funding for a 14-month Limited Term Planner III position and Environmental Impact Report contract during the budget hearings scheduled for June 7-9, 2021.

Our groundwater challenges in the Paso Basin and other parts of SLO County are not going away any time soon. We appreciate the Board's decision to remove the CEQA provision and will continue to collaborate with the County on long-term groundwater policy solutions. For more information, watch a recording of the April 6 meeting (Item 26 is the Paso Basin Planting Ordinance) and read comments from SLO County Farm Bureau and the Agricultural Liaison Advisory Board.

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