home Protecting the Public Drought Impacts Felt Far and Wide

Drought Impacts Felt Far and Wide

In 2015, San Luis Obispo County and the state continued to be plagued by the worst drought on record magnifying existing water issues at the local level. Throughout the year, the County continued to address its water challenges and develop sustainable near-term and long-term solutions.

In 2015, the County Drought Task Force continued to monitor drought conditions, develop appropriated responses and provide monthly updates to the Board of Supervisors and the public.

County Facilities and Parks Water Conservation

The County reduced the use of water on public property. As of November 2015, the County reduced water use at public facilities and grounds by 35 percent since 2013, surpassing the 25 percent state mandate. In addition, the County retrofitted 44 buildings with low-flow fixtures, saving an estimated 4,500 gallons per week last year.

Water reduction efforts implemented by the Department of Parks and Recreation include, but are not limited to:

  • Installation of Central Digital Computerized Irrigation Controllers, Master Valves, and Flow Meters
  • Reduction in Passive Turf Areas and Review of all Water Meters and Other Sources
  • Relandscaping with Drought Resistant Plant Material
  • Using Polymers and Soil Wetting Agents for Water Usage ReductionTree Mortality


Some areas have been reduced more such as passive turf to allow areas such as sports fields to remain safe for users

Passive Areas

passive areas

 Sports Field

sports field


Tree Mortality
dead and dying treesOne of the top issues in 2015 was the ongoing threat to public health and safety due to the epidemic of dead and dying trees locally. The sheer number of dead trees created a serious fire hazard in many areas of the county.

The problem has become so severe that, even if we do receive normal or above rainfall this winter, dead trees will continue to constitute significant threats to public safety into 2016.

All tree species have been adversely affected by the drought. Thousands of coast live oaks of all sizes in all areas and at all elevations have died.

The area most severely impacted is the Cambria Monterey Pine Forest (CMPF). Already one of the most endangered native forests in the world, the CMPF has been further devastated by the drought.

The poor condition of the CMPF resulting from the decades-long problems of senescence, overcrowding, fire exclusion, development, pitch canker, bark beetles, and many other fungal and parasitic pathogens has been severely amplified by the drought. These cumulative impacts have created the current situation where approximately 40 to 50 percent of the overstory trees are dead or dying. In certain areas, mortality exceeds 90 percent.

County staff used local resources and coordinated with the state to secure additional resources to help this growing problem. In 2015, County staff:

  • Streamlined the permitting requirements to facilitate hazardous tree removal on the high number of affected parcels in Cambria
  • Worked with the Cambria Community Services District (CCSD) and authorized acceptance of an emergency permit for removal of hazardous trees in Cambria on parcels owned by the CCSD
  • Cut down and cleared over 160 hazardous trees on County right-of-way along roads in Cambria
  • Coordinated with the state to help address the issue of tree mortality and secure the necessary resources to help this growing problem

Looking Ahead – Long-term Actions

In 2015, staff worked on a number of long-term projects to address limited water supplies due to the drought, which included:

  • Creating of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) Strategy to provide a foundation for all subsequent actions and activities necessary to comply with SGMA
  • Preparing a resolution and accompanying application materials for submittal to Local Agency Formation Commission for the formation of the Paso Robles Basin Water District
  • Developing a Countywide Water Conservation Program (CWWCP) that substantially reduces groundwater extraction in groundwater basins that have been certified LOS III, provides a mechanism to allow new development and new or altered irrigated agriculture to proceed in certified LOS III areas, and reduces the wasteful use of water in the county
  • Amending Title 19 (Building and Construction Ordinance), which updated the outdoor landscape requirements, by adopting the State’s Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance as mandated by the State of California Department of Water Resources per Gubernatorial Executive Order B- 29-15
  • Preparing a Desalination Opportunities Summary Report, and per Board direction staff is:
    • Engaging the Integrated Regional Water Management Program Regional Water Management Group and any other potential project partners in discussions regarding regional desalination facility concepts, opportunities, and projects
    • Engaging potential stakeholders in the Santa Maria and Los Osos Groundwater Basins regarding drought relief opportunities presented by the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant Desalination Facility near-term efforts
    • Moving forward, in concert with PG&E, an emergency project to make desalinated water available to south County communities in the event of continued drought conditions

While the stage is set for a strong El Niño event this winter and potentially into spring, it is unlikely to erase California’s four-year drought. Each succeeding year of historic drought conditions has brought new management challenges.

The challenge of managing limited water supplies for multiple uses has never been more difficult. The County continues to focus on long-term actions to address imbalances in water supply and demand.

As drought conditions and water issues persist in our region, County staff and elected officials will continue to forge ahead and develop solutions for the community that will last.

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