NATURAL RESOURCES IN THE SANTA MARIA VALLEY

INTRODUCTION

The high quality of land, water and air, in combination with a moderate year-round climate, are the natural resources that have made the development of the Santa Maria Valley possible. In this report the Grand Jury has selected natural resource topics that it considers to be the most important concerns that affect the quality of life, prosperity, and projected growth needs in the Valley, and has studied the local government entities that protect them.

The Grand Jury decided to begin the process of studying and evaluating the effectiveness of county, city and special district operations in this economically important part of the County and to identify some of the most difficult problems that exist that affect all of the County’s citizens.

This report is anticipated to bring continued Grand Jury interest and study of the local organs of Santa Maria Valley government to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the many local government entities that provide services to the public in the Valley.

 

LAND

Whose Beaches? Whose Seashores?

The seashore and beaches marking the western boundary of the Santa Maria Valley have been the subject of controversies for many years. The features that have been discussed are the Santa Maria River Estuary, Guadalupe Beach, Mussel Point, Paradise Beach, and Point Sal. The interested and active parties to date have mostly been outside the organization of local government, and include large, national non-profit organizations (recreational or conservationist activists) and/or private citizens (landowners, tenants).

They include:

Public officials and residents of the Santa Maria Valley have shown little interest and taken little action to protect these natural resources in a way that will preserve options for diverse future benefits for present and future residents. There is limited access to these resources, by either car or foot.

Finding 1a: The Santa Maria Valley seashore and beaches have been neglected by the local governments for years.

Finding 1b: Vehicular access to these beaches is either non-existent or across private land. Hiking access to these beaches also traverses private land.

Finding 1c: Point Sal Beach State Park has been neglected for years and has no parking places or toilet facilities, and lacks even a safe footpath to the beach.

Finding 1d: An estimated 5% of coastal property has been placed into various types of government preserves, and efforts are underway to place more into dedicated use, with little input offered by the local jurisdictions in the Valley.

Finding 1e: Non-local organizations may give little consideration for beach access and benefits for local residents.

Recommendation 1: Elected officials in the Santa Maria Valley should express the needs of the citizens to Federal, State and County officials before much more of the seashore is dedicated to specific use, and becomes managed for the benefit of non-local populations.

Oil and Gas

Oil was discovered in the Santa Maria Valley near what is now Orcutt in 1904 with a huge gusher at the first exploratory well drilled ("Old Maud"). An increasing number of new oil discoveries in many areas of the Valley created an oil boom. For the next 80 years, thousands of wells were drilled and put into production. The Santa Maria Valley grew and prospered to a major extent from the oil and gas production. Santa Barbara County also prospered from the tremendous increase in taxable land values.

In 1969, the blow-out of an offshore well in the Santa Barbara Channel unleashed an anti-oil campaign (mostly on the South coast) that resulted in the first major environmental activism in the County. This environmental activism, and anti-oil sentiment, continues. Public attitudes toward oil and gas exploration and production are cited as one of the differences between the North and South parts of the County.

Santa Barbara County regulation, and diminished crude oil prices, caused most local oil production and refining operations to close in the 1990s. Residents of the Santa Maria Valley, except relative newcomers, are aware of the benefits that came from the Valley’s oil and gas resources. Many local political, economic, and commercial leaders are unimpressed by the arguments of anti-oil activists and favor resumption of nearby offshore exploration in Federal leases currently under development moratoria.

Due to the recent two-year increase in oil prices and other energy-related shortages, the economics of drilling, pumping, and refining oil in the County are once more making oil a topical issue. Public hearings by the Federal Minerals Management Service are scheduled for early July 2001 in both Santa Barbara and Santa Maria. These hearings will concern a proposal to drill five exploratory wells at offshore locations in both the South County and the North County. This will give the public an opportunity to weigh-in on the subject.

Ancient Sand Dunes

Much of Santa Maria and Guadalupe are built on prime agricultural land.

The use of prime agricultural land for housing and other urban development, simply because it is conveniently adjacent to the City’s boundaries, eliminates a unique, finite and extremely valuable natural resource. However, the latest sphere of influence, boundary expansions, and annexations by the Cities of Santa Maria and Guadalupe were mostly on contiguous prime agricultural land.

The Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), as recently as June 2001, has identified a way for local governments to expand or annex areas that are not contiguous. This offers benefits for citizens in jurisdictions that are unwilling to annex prime farmland into their urban boundaries.

The ancient dune lands are presently and potentially the least productive agriculturally zoned lands in the Santa Maria Valley. The ancient dune lands, in order to be significantly productive, require irrigation. Due to the absorptive nature of sandy soils, these soils use much more water than the clay-loam soils on the floor of the Valley.

There are thousands of acres of ancient sand dunes in the Santa Maria Valley. They exist in two main areas:

Planning for and expanding urban growth on nearby ancient sand dune areas has many advantages over continued urban growth onto contiguous but prime agricultural land. Protecting prime agricultural land and water conservation are two important benefits. Additionally, by building on the periphery of the agricultural valley, the land values will increase without compromising the number of acres in agricultural production, and therefore there will be a net increase in property tax income to the County. Homes built on the ancient sand dunes would also afford views across the Valley or to the ocean, providing more upscale housing in the Valley, thus creating a better overall mix of housing types and costs in North County.

Finding 2a: The conversion of prime agricultural land for housing and other urban developments conflicts with long-standing County policy. It has been done in the past simply because the prime agricultural land was located conveniently adjacent to a City’s boundaries when the need for expansion existed.

Finding 2b: The ancient sand dunes in the Santa Maria Valley are presently and potentially the least productive agriculturally zoned lands in the Santa Maria Valley, and thus contribute the least to the revenue base of the County.

Finding 2c: Expansion of city boundaries, by Guadalupe or Santa Maria, does not now need to be into contiguous land, most of which is devoted to agricultural production and is designated prime agricultural land.

Recommendation 2a: Housing needs for the population growth in the Santa Maria Valley, as projected in the County’s Strategic Scan 2000, should be best met by cities and the County by carefully planned development on these ancient dune lands, rather than on highly productive prime agricultural land.

Recommendation 2b: Investigate promptly and thoroughly the feasibility of locating urban growth on one or more of these ancient sand dune areas in the Santa Maria Valley.

The Rural Resources Protection Program
                The Grading Ordinance

This ordinance has been the subject of much public and private controversy in recent years. Large-scale removal of oaks and wetlands, usually in connection with the conversion of open space and grazing land (sub-prime farm land) to vineyards, strawberries, vegetables, and cut flowers (high-value crops), alerted the County to the fact that agricultural grading regulations were not always being followed. This resulted in the issuance of a number of grading violation notices and some very costly lawsuits. Many agriculturists charged that the regulations were imprecise, lacked certainty, and were sometimes interpreted in a way that was punitive and costly to farmers and ranchers who claimed the right to carry out time-honored and necessary agricultural practices.

The Board of Supervisors (The Board) recognized the seriousness of this vexing problem and on February 9, 1999 directed the Planning and Development Department (P&D) to develop policies and draft a new ordinance to regulate agricultural grading and vegetation clearance to provide greater certainty as to if and when a permit would be required. The Board further directed P&D management to work with the public to craft a program of options for achieving these goals.

During the Year 2000, P&D staff conducted seven public workshops aimed at working out a comprehensive Rural Resource Protection Program. (Land grading regulation was an essential component of all elements of the program.) The workshops were followed in November and December 2000, with open houses held throughout the County, so that the public could assess and review existing data on biological resources, streams, and wetlands from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Fish and Game Department. From public input at all these meetings, P&D staff prepared a draft project description with multiple options.

What became increasingly clear at these meetings were the inflexible attitudes of both agriculturists and conservationists, and their mutual distrust. About the only matter on which they were in agreement was a strong distrust of County staff generally, and P&D personnel specifically. A further serious roadblock to progress was the large but changing attendance at these meetings. This precluded any thorough discussion of critically important technical and scientific details which would be essential components of any practical project program.

P&D leaders then went back to the Board of Supervisors and obtained their approval, on December 5, 2000, to form a technical advisory committee (TAC) made up of local and other expert representatives of principal types of agriculture, and of locally based environmental and conservation experts. The Board of Supervisors agreed to a TAC membership representing grazing and dry farming, orchards, row crops, vineyards, the Farm Bureau, archeology, botany, wildlife, hydrology (wetlands), the Chumash, the University of California Extension (two members), and the US Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The persons named to the TAC by P&D were known for their open minds, personal integrity, recognized leadership skills, professional knowledge and experience and, above all, a desire to work out a fair and practical balance for protecting both the environment and agriculture. They came from all areas of the County.

To help ensure the success of TAC, P&D managers recruited a broadly experienced and exceptionally able facilitator to conduct the TAC meetings.

The Technical Advisory Committee

After 11 meetings (nearly all attended by Grand Jury members), it became obvious that P&D had designed a winning team and process that was capable of accomplishing the goals set by the Board of Supervisors for natural resource protection and agricultural support. The evidence of this has been visible at every meeting.

Finding 3a: The process of revision and improvement of the County’s controversial agricultural grading ordinance is being moved along steadily by the Planning and Development Department as directed by the Board of Supervisors.

Finding 3b: The appointment and organizing of a Natural Resource Technical Advisory Committee (which concerns, among other issues, agricultural grading), guided by a skilled facilitator, was a process conceived by the Planning and Development Department. P&D’s flexibility in creating TAC, after the inability to obtain consensus during the prior two-year process (involving public hearings, workshops, and drafts of goals, programs and regulations), is commendable.

Finding 3c: TAC members have shown an ability to communicate with each other with courtesy, sensitivity, and understanding, while devising the optimum viable compromises needed to honor both environmental and agricultural laws and concerns.

Finding 3d: P&D staff have provided excellent support, thus enabling the TAC to focus on its deliberations while staff provided maps, visual aids, basic information, and expert outside speakers, as well as producing agendas and summaries of each meeting’s results.

Finding 3e: In the course of 11 scheduled meetings, each usually lasting over three hours, and one field trip, the TAC has made slow but solid progress featured by incisive questions, creative suggestions, and meticulous care to eliminate possible sources of future confusion, misunderstandings, and disputes.

Finding 3f: TAC members development of a two-track protection system is a key element in their consensus building. The landowner has the option of following an inexpensive, totally voluntary process or of following the staff regulatory process.

Finding 3g: TAC’s success in working out a consensus for its draft two-track Archaeological Protection Program (including grading and clearing activities) and

two-track Riparian Setback Protection Program are notable positive achievements that can serve as a model for the more complex TAC goals still remaining. These include protecting wetlands and endangered species.

Recommendation 3a: The TAC should be encouraged to continue its work no matter how long it takes.

Recommendation 3b: The services of the facilitator should be retained until the Resource Protection Program drafts and the Agricultural Grading drafts are completed and approved by County decision-makers.

Recommendation 3c: The Planning and Development Department should continue to lead, support, and build on this thus-far remarkably successful program, and use it as a model for planning and addressing other important P&D program responsibilities.

COMMENDATIONS

The Grand Jury commends P&D management and staff for devising the innovative procedures that offer real hope for the development of revised ordinances that will be so equitable and practical that concerned constituencies and the general public will give their support, while the rancorous, unproductive and unsatisfying hearings of the past will be no more.

The Grand Jury commends the Board of Supervisors for its wisdom and foresight in approving P&D’s proposal to implement its innovative TAC-plus-facilitator approach to solving the long-festering and seemingly intractable land use, conservation, and grading conflicts that have bedeviled applications, inspections, and public hearings for many years.

Betteravia Lake

Betteravia Lake, located two miles east of the Santa Maria City limit, and about four miles northwest of Orcutt, was originally one of the few natural lakes in California outside the Sierra Nevada Mountains. During the Mexican rule of California, ownership of this valuable lake was divided approximately in half, between the Rancho Guadalupe Land Grant and the Punta de la Laguna Land Grant. Because of its natural clay subsoil, this lake held rainwater and the perennial flow from the Solomon Creek watershed, a mountainous area of approximately 150,000 acres.

Betteravia Lake water began to be used in 1898 when the Union Sugar Company established its sugar beet processing factory near the northeast end of the lake. Sugar beets require much rinse water, and the northeast portion of the lake was converted to settling ponds by the factory to dump silt-laden wastewater from the beet processing.

The sugar factory pumped several thousand acre-feet of water into Betteravia Lake in the years that the factory was in operation, or from 1898 until the national depression of the 1930s.

Union Sugar developed the company town of Betteravia (from the French for sugar beet), adjacent to the factory, and built over 300 homes. Recreational facilities for the Betteravia town residents were developed at the Lake, which included boating, sailing, fishing, duck blinds, and a tourist hotel, bar, and restaurant. However, by the 1930s, all were closed down and the townsite was cleared of all structures.

Because the sugar factory and the town were located on top of a steeply wooded escarpment, the Lake was virtually invisible to all but the residents and workers. The main roads and Santa Maria Valley Railroad lines that serviced Betteravia had no view of the lake because of intervening hills and trees that fully blocked the view. There was no public road access anywhere near the east and west ends of the Lake. Highway 1 and the Southern Pacific Railroad line that run parallel but at some distance from the south side of the Lake have a few good views, but were seldom traveled in those days. Betteravia Lake was a treasured secret for those few Santa Maria Valley residents that knew of its existence.

At present, it is a rare person that has ever even heard of Betteravia Lake and few have ever seen it. Those old enough to remember it are "old-timers" who recall the wonderful recreation that was enjoyed in the Santa Maria Valley 60 or more years ago, and who regret that few recreational opportunities are available for Valley residents today.

In fact, it is claimed, Betteravia Lake does not exist anymore; it is a rare old map of the Valley that even has it noted. Property owners of land parcels that included portions of the Lake (and who collectively owned the entire Lake bottom) began efforts to convert the Lake to farmland after the sugar factory closed in the 1930s. The huge clumps of tules that characterized much of the Lake perimeter were grubbed out and their roots were burned. The surface water and the underlying perched ground water was pumped out near the west end of the Lake, into the lower end of the Orcutt/Solomon Creek, which then flowed into the Santa Maria River estuary. This fresh water then flowed west into the ocean and was lost.

Draining swamps and sloughs was a common and encouraged activity during that era. Gradually the Lake was converted to prime productive farmland. Tiles were installed to facilitate the efficiency of water removal from the top three-or-so feet of waterlogged soil so that the maximum number of field crops could be grown each year. Migratory flights of ducks and other waterfowl ceased to come to the area and private shooting clubs closed down. Fish and other aquatic denizens of the Lake became extinct.

In 1972, a new Federal law was passed (EPA’s Clean Water Act) and, later, the Endangered Species Protection legislation was passed. Part of the area that was the former site of Betteravia Lake was designated a wetland. This designation was no longer valid for most of the lake bed, however, because the Clean Water law provided an agricultural exemption for land that had been drained and farmed for a minimum of four consecutive years.

In recent years, Mother Nature, urban construction, and irrigated agricultural expansion into the ancient sand dune land surrounding the Lake (see above) have resulted in expanded surface water runoff that eventually enters the Orcutt/Solomon Creek and drains into the Lake. This watershed drainage, coupled with high recent precipitation, recreated Betteravia Lake approximately as it was originally (excepting the tules, fish, ducks, and other wildlife). As urban development and irrigated agricultural crops expand onto former grazing lands to the east, it seems inevitable that the increasing costs of pumping the increasing water drainage into the lake will become uneconomic for field crops.

It may become advantageous for some, if not all, of the Lake bottom property owners to sell their land to organizations that would like to restore Betteravia Lake for

multi-purpose uses of engineered wetlands, tertiary water treatment, public recreation, wetland preservation and endangered species protection.

Preliminary efforts were made by the County several years ago to initiate action on a restoration of the Lake, with its many potential public benefits. That proposal was underfunded and soon abandoned.

It now seems technically and economically feasible, however, to restore Betteravia Lake to its historic, recreational use, in addition to other uses. Substantial grant opportunities now and for the next three years exist (namely State Fund #319, State Parks Propositions 12 and 13, US Fish and Wildlife Funds, and the State Habitat Conservation Fund to fund Wetland Restoration Projects). These multimillion dollar grants and low- or no-interest rate loans are designed to encourage just such ideas. Taking advantage of these funding opportunities can significantly benefit the people of the entire Santa Maria Valley.

Laguna Sanitation District

The Laguna Sanitation District, located adjacent to Betteravia Lake, may be the key to the Lake’s restoration. This District, the County’s only utility in North County, provides wastewater processing for Orcutt. It currently cannot process to its existing full industrial capacity because it is no longer able to distribute all of the clean wastewater it produces, based on its available acreage and water distribution contracts, per the dictates of the Regional Water Quality Control Board. This constraint exists because of the insufficiency of land acreage over which to disperse water. While the District is purchasing, with County Capital Fund money, about 200 acres, it still needs and is attempting to secure additional acreage for long-term water irrigation contracts. Even if acreage is identified and long-term contracts are entered into, however, there will be excess surface water produced by the processing plant in winter months. Thus, Laguna Sanitation will need (surface) water storage facilities, which will create significant continuing capital expenses for the County.

Unlike other less modern facilities, the Laguna Sanitation wastewater processing does not rely on bioactivation, so the processing plant has low incidence of plant upset. This, in addition to the reverse osmosis process with which it treats much of the processed water effluent, argues for a productive use of the processed water in the form of an engineered wetland (as exists at Arcata in Humboldt County, and at the Santee Lakes Park in San Diego County).

An engineered wetland, as part of a multi-use project at Betteravia Lake, would seem to be a benefit to County taxpayers, recreationalists, and conservationists. The engineers and management of Laguna Sanitation have the skills and knowledge to manage an engineered wetland project.

Finding 4a: There is a growing need for more public recreational facilities in the Santa Maria Valley as the population continues to grow.

Finding 4b: There is a significant potential to redevelop part of Betteravia Lake as a protected preserve for endangered species of water-related wildlife. This could allow the concentration of endangered species in a suitable habitat that could serve as a mitigation trade-off of other more valuable prime farmlands.

Recommendation 4: The County’s Laguna Sanitation District, which already owns a significant amount of Betteravia Lake, is a potential and early direct beneficiary of a multipurpose tertiary treatment pond and water storage in the Lake, and should play a leading role in trying to get the Lake restoration project started.

Finding 5a: It appears that the owners of the Betteravia Lake bottom are likely to face increasing production costs in the future as well as diminished growing seasons, thus less income and profit.

Finding 5b: There may be significant incentive for some of the landowners to sell their land and use the proceeds to make more profitable investments.

Finding 5c: At least one Betteravia Lake landowner is in bankruptcy and may need to sell much, if not all, of his land around the Lake.

Finding 5d: The public is unaware of the recreational and conservation potential of Betteravia Lake.

Finding 5e: There is insufficient local funding available for the restoration of Betteravia Lake.

Recommendation 5a: The leadership of Santa Maria, Orcutt, Guadalupe, and Santa Barbara County should form a coalition of experts to study the potential benefits and feasibility of restoring some or all of Betteravia Lake.

Recommendation 5b: After a reasonable amount of preliminary research has been completed, participating entities should schedule a series of public meetings at locations in Santa Maria, Orcutt, and Guadalupe, including ample visual aid material, to ensure that the public is well informed about this long-hidden natural lake in Santa Maria Valley.

Recommendation 5c: Participating government entities should collaborate in identifying, and preparing applications for, both public and private grants for which this project qualifies.

AIR

Santa Maria Valley has been blessed with good air. It flows most of the year from northwest to southeast. In the early days, the brisk cool morning fogs and afternoon breezes from the ocean resulted in mild winters with little frost, and cool summers. On the negative side, there were huge clouds of dust all over the Valley, which was a sandy, alluvial semi-arid region.

Several decades later, eucalyptus trees (mostly blue gum) were planted to serve as windbreaks and diminish the dust. Irrigation and crops began to cover the sandy plain. Multiple crops were planted each year because of the favorable climate. Instead of seeds, shoots, which held soil better, were planted. Better farming practices also were employed. Appropriate grading, crop timing, and more efficient and frequent irrigation eliminated most of the dust and wind problems for farmers and downwind residents. In recent decades the eucalyptus windbreaks were no longer needed and were cut down and removed in order to gain more farmland.

With the increased use of engines, cars, trucks, generators, etc., air pollution gradually became a serious problem. In recent years, the lack of housing on the South Coast of the County induced increasing daily commuting to and from Santa Maria and other North County and San Luis Obispo County towns. Currently there are many thousands of commuter vehicles moving along Highway 101 through the Santa Maria Valley Monday through Friday, producing air pollution.

There is only one official State and Local Air Monitoring Station (SLAMS) in the Santa Maria Valley. Operated by the California Air Resource Board (CARB), this is the only measure of non-point source air pollution in the Valley. (There is currently no State and Local Air Monitoring Station in the City of Santa Barbara.) This station has been located at 906 S. Broadway (Highway 135) in Santa Maria for the past three years; for the 17 years prior to this, it was located four blocks north of this site, near the Santa Maria City Library.

These two locations have given a misleading measurement of air pollution in Santa Maria. Over half of the City’s housing, all of the heavy commuting and much of the City’s north-south travel occur on Highway 101. These sources are downwind from the monitoring station and therefore are not included in the air pollution being measured.

Finding 6: The two locations measuring air pollution for the past 20 years in Santa Maria have given a misleading measurement, because these locations do not include the contribution to air pollution caused by ever-increasing traffic.

Recommendation 6a: Santa Barbara’s Air Pollution Control District should request that the California Air Resource Board relocate this Santa Maria air monitoring station promptly to a site that more accurately registers the air quality by including the commuter traffic and new demographics of this growing City. The station should be relocated east of Highway 101, and east of Marian Medical Center (along South Suey Road) in order to get truer readings of air quality and pollution in Santa Maria.

Recommendation 6b: The Board of Supervisors should direct the Planning Commission to begin a priority revision of South Coast Land Use and Zoning Plans and its housing policies with the goal of actually meeting South Coast housing needs.

Instead of continuing the County’s longstanding policy of inadequately addressing the South Coast housing needs, available South Coast housing would be the only possible way of mitigating the Santa Maria Valley air pollution resulting from South Coast employees having to crowd Highway 101 to obtain affordable housing.

WATER

Water for all uses in the Santa Maria Valley is provided by three sources:

Responsibilities for Water Supply in the Santa Maria Valley

In 1991, a task force known as the Santa Maria Valley Water Conservation Committee was created to review water conservation efforts in the Santa Maria Valley, and to recommend appropriate future water conservation efforts of water purveyors and users. Another purpose was to provide data for the Santa Maria Valley Ground Water Management Plan, which was recommended by the Santa Barbara County Water Agency in its 1994 Santa Maria Valley Water Resources Report. The providers of water in the Valley (City of Santa Maria, Santa Maria Valley Water Conservation District, and Cal Cities Water) began to draft this Santa Maria Ground Water Management Plan as required by AB 3030. It, however, was never completed.

The City of Santa Maria has, for many years, successfully engaged in long-term planning and funding, ensuring that all necessary infrastructure improvements are in place and are sufficient to meet population growth requirement for years to come. Contracting for State Water was a complicated process, which required many years of complex planning, but this was completed, and the piping installed, in 1998. Prior to State Water deliveries to Santa Maria and Guadalupe, the net overdraft to the aquifer was estimated by the County Water Agency to average approximately 20,000 AFY. The purchase of State Water by the City of Santa Maria has significantly reduced the groundwater overdraft, markedly improved the quality of water for Santa Maria City customers, and has improved the quality of water recharged into the basin from the city’s flood and sewer percolation ponds. In addition to providing 16,000 AFY, Santa Maria City’s use of State Water is estimated to reduce the overdraft of the aquifer by approximately 8,000 AFY, through the water recharged into the aquifer from the City’s flood and sewer percolation ponds.

However, use of water from the valley aquifer continues to grow, based on the expansion of agriculture in this fertile valley.

Desalinization of Sea Water—An Impossible Dream

This potentially unlimited source of water has been studied repeatedly during the past 20 years. It has invariably been found to be many times more costly than the available alternatives. The City of Santa Barbara bought a desalinization plant and installed it near the ocean slightly above sea level in downtown Santa Barbara. It was used briefly near the end of a six-year drought but was closed down and mothballed when the next year brought ample rain, which replenished the water storage to be used by the City. If this project at the water’s edge in the County’s most populous city was abandoned, this would indicate that a desalinization project for the less populous City of Santa Maria, which is located 12 miles from the ocean and several hundred feet above ocean level, would be even less economical.

 

 

Santa Maria Valley Water Conservation District

The major source of recharge to the Santa Maria aquifer is the percolation of surface water through the absorptive sands of the Santa Maria River bed, below Twitchell Dam, from Fugler’s Point to the Bonita Crossing. Rainwater flows down the Cuyama River to the Twitchell Reservoir where it is stored until it can be metered out and absorbed into the Valley aquifer. This recharge of the aquifer currently averages about 15,000 AFY. Management of Twitchell Dam and continued contribution to the aquifer is the responsibility of the Santa Maria Valley Water Conservation District.

The Santa Maria groundwater basin has water quality problems related to its geology, the number of many former dairy sites, and the past and current agricultural practices. In the groundtable water there are high levels of total dissolved solids (TDS), salts (specifically chloride), and high levels of nitrates caused by the percolation of wash through the former dairy sites and the point-source fertilization of high-value agricultural crops. Several of the Cal Cities wells supplying Orcutt households with water were closed earlier this year, due to the high level of nitrates. The SMVWCD has not been concerned with "preserving and protecting" groundwater quality, despite its apparent acceptance of this responsibility in its 1995 Five-Year AB3030 Groundwater Management Plan. Thus, the measurement and amelioration of nitrate contamination and the elevated level of TDS in the aquifer has thus far been unaddressed.

Quantity of Groundwater in the Santa Maria Valley Basin

The importance of managing the net use of water from the groundwater basin is critical to continued successful agriculture in the Valley. Should seawater intrude into the aquifer (as it has begun to do in Salinas County), the health of the soil, and the production of crops grown, would diminish. Coastal monitoring wells have not indicated any seawater intrusion into the Valley aquifer and the County wants to keep it that way. Careful measurement and management of the net use of water from the groundwater basin is done by many government agencies.

In a report issued by the County in 1999, and in a report issued by the Cachuma Resource Conservation District published in November 2000, it was reported that the Santa Maria Valley aquifer was in overdraft, or more water was being used than was being contributed to it.

While Santa Maria City officials, County Flood Control, County Water Agency (who report to the Region and State), and Laguna Sanitation District have a close, cooperative relationship that has been in place for many years, Santa Maria City and SMVWCD cooperation has been minimal following the filing of a lawsuit by SMVWCD against the City in 1997. The SMVWCD and its agricultural members are seeking to prevent the City from "banking" surplus State Water in the aquifer, which would eliminate the County Water Agency identified overdraft, in order to prevent the City from claiming any "prescriptive rights" to water from the aquifer. This "banking," it is claimed, might compromise the future rights of farmers to pump water from the aquifer.

In a private hydrological report commissioned by the SMVWCD in connection with its lawsuit ("The Scalmanini Report"), the Santa Maria aquifer is claimed to be in balance and without a current overdraft. Thus, the District claims, there is no space to bank the current surplus of State Water in the aquifer.

It is an ongoing concern, however, to the SMVWCD that approximately 45,000 acre feet of conservation water storage capacity has been lost from the Twitchell Reservoir as a result of silt deposits (averaging 1,000 AFY) deposited at the dam by the drainage from the Cuyama River. Contributions to the aquifer from the reservoir are now 15,000 AFY, versus 22,000 AFY when Twitchell Dam was completed in 1958.

The District is continuing to seek solutions to the siltation problem. To make up for some of the water storage loss from siltation, the SMVWCD and County Flood Control applied for and received a one-time authorization from the Army Corps of Engineers in the 1990s to reduce the amount of flood water (pool) storage and allowed the flood water to be used to make up for some of the water conservation storage that was lost from siltation. The District is again applying to the Army Corps of Engineers for a new authorization to use the maximum allowable amount of flood pool storage further to mitigate the continuing conservation storage loss in the Reservoir from accumulated siltation. Additionally, a one-time $500,000 grant has been approved by Congress for the District, which, if funded, will pay to begin to clear some of the debris below the dam, in the absorptive sands.

The SMVWCD Directors have consistently throughout the history of the District been conservative and frugal stewards of Twitchell Dam and Reservoir and its water conservation and flood control functions. This has included management of the Santa Maria Valley water table replenishment, by carefully calculating releases into the absorptive sands in the bed of the Santa Maria River. The District Directors state that the problem of progressive siltation of the Twitchell Reservoir was known to the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers at the time Twitchell Dam was planned and built, but the Bureau’s estimates of the siltation rate were only half of the actual rate in the forty-two years that the Dam has been in operation.

Although a number of ideas have been articulated for solving the problem of reservoir siltation and loss of water storage, the SMVWCD points out that other government entities were and are responsible, and that the District does not have the necessary funding to remediate the loss of water storage at the Dam. At their monthly meetings, discussions continue to consider hiring specialists to draft grant applications that might fund the extremely complex and costly studies that will be necessary to devise an effective solution. Studies to date have not found any economically and technically feasible methods of mitigation for the loss of water storage, and the potential loss of this major source of recharge to the Santa Maria aquifer.

Finding 7: The recharge to the aquifer in the Santa Maria Basin has been diminished due to the continued siltation at Twitchell Reservoir.

Recommendation 7a: Resolve the conflicts in estimates of discharge to the Santa Maria Valley aquifer as soon as possible.

Recommendation 7b: If an economical solution to the siltation issues at Twitchell Reservoir cannot be found in the near future, all local authorities should work cooperatively to find another source of recharge to cope with the growing need for water from the Santa Maria aquifer.

Quality of Groundwater in the Santa Maria Valley

In 1999, the Regional Water Quality Control Board notified all water quality control districts that management and measurements of groundwater quality were being mandated by Federal law, and that districts would have two years to draft a plan, creating voluntary guidelines for their district. If this deadline is not met (in 2002), there would be a systematic loss of local control over groundwater management in the District.

As a consequence, in 2000, the Cachuma Resource Conservation District completed a comprehensive study of non-point sources of pollution in the Valley watershed with a corresponding set of recommendations for improving the quality of groundwater. These recommendations to improve groundwater quality are based on encouraging "best farming practices" (appropriate ground cover, contour grading, riparian buffers, etc.).

These recommendations were discussed by SMVWCD, and a hydrologic consultant was hired and asked to comment on the Cachuma Report and on the District’s responsibility for groundwater quality, as a result of new State legislation. The consultant confirmed that the Cachuma report was fastidiously prepared, meticulously researched, and presented recommendations that were based on "best farming practices." The consultant further recommended that a voluntary commitment to best farming practices could and should be encouraged by the District. Otherwise, the District’s local control of water quality issues, as mandated by the new State legislation, would be mandated by Regional and State authorities.

Finding 8: In 1999, the Regional Water Quality Control Board notified all water quality control districts that management and measurement of groundwater quality were being mandated by Federal law, and that each district would have two years to draft a plan that would create voluntary guidelines for the district. Failure to meet the deadline by 2002 would result in a systematic loss of local control over groundwater management in that district.

Recommendation 8a: Before the State Water Quality Control Board mandates measures to improve groundwater quality in the Santa Maria Basin, the SMVWCD should insist on voluntary "best farming practices" among its membership, and provide local leadership in that area.

Recommendation 8b: The SMVWCD should work with the Cachuma Resource Conservation District in implementing these recommendations to improve groundwater quality and provide leadership promoting "best farming practices" in the District.

Representation on the Santa Maria Valley
Water Conservation District Board

Water conservation storage and quality protection are significantly affected by water flows, flooding, wild fires, siltation and soil erosion, cattle grazing, brush and tree removal, road building, irrigation and farming practices, and many other events that occur throughout the entire watersheds of the Santa Maria, Cuyama and Sisquoc rivers and their tributaries. SMVWCD boundaries include only the northwestern half (approximately two-thirds) of the Santa Maria Valley Water aquifer.

SMVWCD has not adjusted its boundaries or its seven voting divisions since the District was founded in 1937. These boundaries were initially selected for economic reasons (irrigated crop production). The SMVWCD is divided into seven divisions. The City of Santa Maria (Division 5) has a resident population many times larger than the total of all of the other six rural Divisions, and yet has only one vote on the Board.

The SMVWCD directors have nearly always been local farmers, due to the current configuration of the voting divisions. The dominant interest in the District is by farmers, and non-farmer city residents are generally apathetic about SMVWCD issues. Therefore, the representative from Division 5 (Santa Maria City) is a minority voice, and controversial votes are usually 6 to 1. In 1999, the County Water Agency, after studying historic trends and hydrologic balance studies, characterized the Santa Maria Valley aquifer as having a "slight to moderate" overdraft. No single agency of government claims responsibility for assuring the health and efficiency of the entire Santa Maria Valley watershed by appropriate planning and management.

The California legislature has ordered all special districts that do not choose at-large delegates, including the SMVWCD, to revise their voting districts not later than six months prior to next district elections (in 2002). Each division of each district must now have equal numbers of residents, based on the 2000 decennial Federal census data, and based on the population of the entire District.

Finding 9: The SMVWCD political boundaries do not reflect the boundaries of the groundwater basin it is charged with protecting and managing, and six of the seven divisions of the District currently have a very small population of eligible voters because of the historic configuration of the District.

Recommendation 9a: The District should move forward on expanding its boundaries, at least those within Santa Barbara County, to provide for better groundwater management before the next election.

Recommendation 9b: The SMVWCD should adjust its boundaries to include all of the SMV groundwater aquifer.

Recommendation 9c: The SMVWCD should charge fees on the annexed lands at the same rate structure applied to existing district landowners, both rural and urban.

Recommendation 9d: The District should revise its divisional boundaries in the near future to comply with the new Special District election laws.

In this way, any remedy to the problems facing the groundwater in the Valley would be based on the needs of all users, and could be funded comprehensively.

Orcutt and the Orcutt Sub-aquifer of the Santa Maria Valley Aquifer

Cal Cities, a subsidiary of the private, for-profit, Southern California Water Company Incorporated, supplies all water in Orcutt. A Board of Supervisor’s amendment to the Orcutt Community Plan requires that new developments in Orcutt use only the State water allotment or supplemental water. No groundwater can be supplied to new subdivisions. Cal Cities made an oral commitment to the City of Santa Maria during its negotiations with the State, for a 7,500 AFY allotment of State Water in 1991. It later contracted for only 500 AFY, leaving a water supply for all future new Orcutt housing development of only 500 AFY.

Santa Maria officials have consistently refused to consider annexation of the Orcutt urban area even though it is contiguous to the boundaries of the City and is in the City’s Sphere of Influence. City officials’ disinterest in annexation is based on their opinions that Orcutt’s infrastructure does not meet City minimum standards. It is claimed that Orcutt’s infrastructure would be expensive to bring up to City standards (capital costs) and Orcutt’s sales tax, bed tax, and other revenues would not meet its proportionate share of municipal operational costs.

A vocal majority of Orcutt residents have no desire to become a minor part of Santa Maria City. The Grand Jury was told that many Orcutt community leaders would actively oppose any proposal for annexation to the City. The County’s revised development standards, as set forth in the Orcutt Community Plan, might increase Orcutt’s ability to meet many of Santa Maria’s infrastructure standards, but Orcutt’s operating revenues from taxes, fees, etc., would not likely be sufficient to fund Orcutt’s share of municipal operating costs.

Finding 10: Orcutt does not have sufficient operating revenues to fund operating costs equivalent to Santa Maria’s standards.

Recommendation 10: Santa Maria should not be encouraged to underwrite Orcutt’s operating costs, and it should continue to resist discussions of Orcutt annexation.

The Health of the Santa Maria River Levee

The Santa Maria River levee is decades old and showing its age. It is a dirt, stonefaced berm that has been breached several times over the years. People are not generally well informed about the levee, but there is widespread concern that it might fail and destroy thousands of homes in northern Santa Maria. County Flood Control is planning to increase the integrity of the Santa Maria River levee by planting and maintaining a 50-foot-wide willow forest to help protect the levee.

Finding 11a: The integrity of the Santa Maria River levee is important to the recharge of the aquifer, as well as the safety of all who live, school, and work near it.

Finding 11b: Many Santa Maria Valley residents are questioning the flood protection capability of the levee on the Santa Maria River.

Recommendation 11: County Flood Control should continue with its plans to repair the Santa Maria River levee.

THE CITY OF GUADALUPE

Guadalupe is the oldest of the three towns in the Santa Maria Valley. In its early years, it exceeded Santa Maria in population, business, leadership, and overall prosperity. After the Pacific Coast Railway began serving Santa Maria in the 1880s, the first bridge was constructed across the Santa Maria River. Santa Maria boomed and Guadalupe began to decline. Although packing and shipping facilities were built for fresh vegetables grown in the west end of the Valley, Guadalupe lost much of its business and political leadership, which moved to fast-growing Santa Maria.

The current Guadalupe population is about 6,500 as compared to Santa Maria’s 80,000 and Orcutt’s 35,000. Despite limited financial resources, Guadalupe leaders have been remarkably successful in recent years in supplying high quality water services to everyone in the City. City officials have a good working relationship with the Regional Water Quality Control Board, which has assisted the City with water quality improvement to meet and exceed minimum required standards.

Water

The City also bought a 500 AFY allotment of State Water that it mixes with its local wellwater to improve the municipal water quality.

To the extent possible, the City has oversized its new water and sewer main to be able to accommodate future growth without again digging up the two miles of Guadalupe Street (State Highway 1). By coordinating with CalTrans, the City was thus able to achieve a lower cost replacement of the ancient water and sewer mains.

City officials are concerned that the aquifer from which they pump the City’s water may be increasingly contaminated by

City leadership sought to establish a ring of test wells outside the City’s perimeter to provide early warning, and applied for a grant from the UNOCAL mitigation funds to finance them. The application was rejected.

Flooding

The Santa Maria River flooding is a constant threat to the City. The protective levee does not extend downstream beyond Highway 1. This exposes LeRoy Park and its youth center building, as well as exposing housing on both sides of lower Pioneer Street. The City’s requests to the County for mitigation of the flooding danger have been unsuccessful. County Flood Control officials say the funds are unavailable. In March the Santa Maria River berm along the Fraitis/DeGaspari property failed, and caused water and soil erosion damage.

A flood water channel known as the West Main Street Ditch is an unlined dirt cavity and has reportedly failed a number of times. Because there are increasing water flows from the agricultural fields east of the City in recent years, the City is concerned that the channel might seriously overflow, flooding McKenzie Junior High School and undermining parts of Main Street.

Land

Guadalupe is surrounded by richly productive farmland, and the Santa Maria River to the north. Like many cities in agricultural areas, it has no way to grow to meet the needs of its growing population except by annexing prime agricultural land. This has been done piecemeal and has thus far met the City’s needs. More land is now needed and the City has identified a potential seller for 80 acres immediately adjacent to the City limits. If an agreement is worked out, the City can start the long process with the Local Area Formation Commission (LAFCO) for authority to add the land to its sphere of influence and ultimately to include it inside the City limits so that housing construction can be authorized.

Apart from this 80-acre parcel, most of the agricultural land is concentrated in the hands of a relatively small number of farmers, with a large part of the former Rancho Guadalupe still in the hands of the heirs of a non-resident foreign investor, as it has been since 1862. Many of the lands are farmed by tenants, including some large local agricultural corporations.

There are non-prime agricultural lands several miles outside the City that might be possible to annex to the City and develop for housing, recreation, and conservation of local flora and fauna. This annexation would be a long and complex project, but one that could ultimately conserve prime agricultural land, while still increasing Guadalupe’s tax base, and provide a site for the City to zone for upscale housing that would balance the City’s current modest housing stock.

Recreation

An ancient slough on private property has been an unofficial junk disposal site for many years. The City now plans to clean it up and develop it as a nature conservation project, a city recreational facility and a site for children to learn about nature. It is the City’s view that endangered species of birds and animal should be concentrated in well-protected appropriate sites. This is part of the City’s overall plan to turn blight into beauty with public benefits.

The City is also aware of possible changes of use in the nearby Betteravia Lake (formerly known as Guadalupe Lake) area. As the water table in the west end of the Valley has continued to rise, and the water flow from the Orcutt/Solomon Creek watershed continues to grow, it seems likely that crop production will become increasingly difficult and costly, with profitable crops diminishing in number. Should a multi-use lake restoration project come into being, Guadalupe leadership would consider participation.

Finding 12: Guadalupe’s Mayor, City Council and staff are determined to increase the City’s municipal income and resources to improve city services.

Recommendation 12: Guadalupe officials should increase efforts to improve City finances and thus the City’s ability to develop local and needed natural resources to benefit residents, by expanding efforts to obtain more grant financing.

Finding 13: It is legally possible for Guadalupe to annex currently non-contiguous land for urban growth needs. This would allow the City to plan its future growth on marginal farm land instead of converting adjacent highly profitable prime agricultural farm land to housing tracts.

Recommendation 13: Guadalupe officials should continue plans and programs to obtain LAFCO approvals for expanding the City’s Sphere of Influence and City limits to meet City population growth needs as projected by the County through 2030. They should annex ancient sand dunes (sub-prime agricultural land) northeast of Brown Road and an access corridor across prime agricultural land for needed upscale housing in the Santa Maria Valley. This development of "Guadalupe South" could increase the future real estate tax base and support local businesses.

Finding 14: The Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) provided a large grant and technical advice so that the water supply and sewer treatment facilities of Guadalupe were upgraded to comply with all governmental regulations.

Recommendation 14: Guadalupe officials should continue to work with RWQCB to further improve the quality of water and of sewage effluent treated by the City of Guadalupe sewer farm.

Finding 15: City leaders are working on plans and negotiating with adjacent property owners to develop the Guadalupe City Slough into an attractive multipurpose City Park with numerous amenities.

Recommendation 15: Guadalupe officials should continue these efforts with respect to the City Slough and apply for funding grants.

Finding 16: The Nature Conservancy, manager of the Guadalupe Dunes, has improved Oso Flaco Lakes just north of the County border with amenities, but it has done nothing to provide similar recreational facilities at the Santa Maria rivermouth estuary.

Recommendation 16: Guadalupe should continue with its requests to the County and the Nature Conservancy to expedite the improvement of public recreational facilities at Guadalupe Beach Park as the Conservancy has done at its facility at Oso Flaco.

Finding 17: The City has done a commendable job to redevelop a blighted area (the City Slough) into a multipurpose park.

Recommendation 17: Guadalupe officials should continue plans to develop the Guadalupe City Slough into an attractive multipurpose park featuring a general cleanup, conservation of nature species, childrens’ educational facilities, boating, fishing, picnicking, etc.

Finding 18: Paradise Beach has the potential to be improved to become a multipurpose County/City recreational and conservation park.

Recommendation 18: Paradise Beach (through efforts of the City of Santa Maria, Orcutt, and the County) should be developed into a County park similar to the beach at the base of the cliff at Summerland on the South Coast. Additionally, the County, the City of Santa Maria, and Orcutt in combination with input from the City of Guadalupe should encourage the State legislature and the local representatives to bring Point Sal Beach State Park up to a reasonable standard (regarding access, parking, and sanitation facilities) for safer and enhanced public use.

Finding 19: Restoration of Betteravia Lake could provide recreational and educational benefits for Guadalupe, its residents, and visitors.

Recommendation 19: Guadalupe officials should participate in planning and promoting restoration of Betteravia Lake, or portions thereof, into a multipurpose park.

Finding 20: LeRoy Park, currently Guadalupe’s only park, and its valuable community buildings, may sustain flood damage in the future.

Recommendation 20: In combination with County Flood Control, Guadalupe should seek to protect LeRoy Park and consider extending the Santa Maria River levee west of Highway 1, and create an earth berm around the unprotected three-acre site as an affordable first step in solving Guadalupe’s flooding issues.

 

AFFECTED AGENCIES

KEY

AGENCY

 

A

     County Administrator (CAO) *

B

     Board of Supervisors (BOS) *

C

     Planning and Development (P&D) *

D

     Public Works and Flood Control (PWD) *

E

     Santa Maria Mayor and City Council

F

     Guadalupe Mayor and City Council

G

     Air Pollution Control District (APCD) *

H

     County Parks *

I

     Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO)

J

     S. B. County Association of Governments (SBCAG)

K

     Agricultural Commissioner *

L

     Water Agency *

M

     Clerk-Recorder-Assessor *

N

     Laguna Sanitation District

O

     Santa Maria Valley Water Conservation District (SMVWCD)

P

     Treasurer/Tax Collector *

Q

     Cachuma Resource Conservation District (CRCD)

R

     County Counsel *

S

     Auditor-Controller *

T

     Planning Commission *

* Santa Barbara County Agencies.

Notes:

  1. The following presentation of the list of Affected Agencies and the associated Findings and Recommendations is a departure from previous practice. The layout is easy to follow but to make it even easier, we suggest that after you locate your agency’s Key Letter in the sequence across the top of the matrix, you might wish to use a highlighter to mark that column.

  2. In the leftmost column of the matrix, F = Finding and R = Recommendation

  3. A list of the Agencies sorted alphabetically is presented on page 27.

 

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F-1a

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F-1e

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R-1

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F-2a

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F-2c

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R-2a

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F-3a

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F-3b

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F-3c

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F-3d

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F-3e

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F-3f

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F-3g

6

 

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R-3a

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R-3b

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R-3c

7

 

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F-4a

10

 

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F-4b

10

 

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R-4

10

 

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PAGE

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F-5a

11

 

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F-5b

11

 

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F-5c

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F-5d

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F-5e

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R-5a

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R-5b

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R-5c

10

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F-6

11

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R-6a

11

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R-6b

11

 

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F-7

15

     

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R-7a

15

     

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R-7b

15

     

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F-8

16

     

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R-8a

16

   

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R-8b

16

   

x

             

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F-9

17

               

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R-9a

17

               

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R-9b

17

 

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R-9c

17

 

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R-9d

17

 

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F-10

18

x

 

x

 

x

     

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x

x

R-10

18

x

 

x

 

x

     

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x

                                           

F-11a

18

   

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x

x

x

               

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F-11b

18

   

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x

x

               

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R-11

18

   

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x

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T

                                           

F-12

20

         

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R-12

20

         

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F-13

20

   

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x

R-13

21

   

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F-14

21

         

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R-14

21

         

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F-15

21

         

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R-15a

21

         

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F-16

21

 

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R-16

21

   

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F-17

21

         

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x

                       

R-17

21

         

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F-18

21

 

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x

 

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x

 

x

                     

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R-18

21

 

x

x

 

x

x

 

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F-19

22

 

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x

   

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R-19

22

 

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x

x

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x

 

x

     

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F-20

22

     

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x

                           

R-20

22

     

x

 

x

                           

 

 

KEY

AGENCY

   

K

     Agricultural Commissioner *

G

     Air Pollution Control District (APCD) *

S

     Auditor-Controller *

B

     Board of Supervisors (BOS) *

Q

     Cachuma Resource Conservation District (CRCD)

M

     Clerk-Recorder-Assessor *

A

     County Administrator (CAO) *

R

     County Counsel *

H

     County Parks 8

F

     Guadalupe Mayor and City Council

N

     Laguna Sanitation District

I

     Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO)

C

     Planning and Development (P&D) *

T

     Planning Commission *

D

     Public Works and Flood Control (PWD) *

J

     S. B. County Association of Governments (SBCAG)

E

     Santa Maria Mayor and City Council

O

     Santa Maria Valley Water Conservation District (SMVWCD)

P

     Treasurer/Tax Collector *

L

     Water Agency *

* Santa Barbara County Agencies.