New Irrigated Commercial Crop Production - Agricultural Offset Program

Return to PRGWB

On October 27, 2015, the Board adopted Resolution 2015-288 that amended County Code (Title 22) to require new and/or expanded irrigated crop production to obtain an Agricultural Offset Clearance from the Department of Planning and Building to minimize further depletion of groundwater levels. On November 5, 2019, the Board amended Title 22 to extend the termination date of the Agricultural Offset Clearance requirement to January 1, 2022. Any Agricultural Offset Clearances that were conditionally approved and still active on December 5, 2019 will now terminate on January 1, 2022.


Within the Paso Basin, there is a subarea called the "area of severe decline" that has more stringent restrictions. Click here for a map. There are three main scenarios for how this ordinance may affect a property:

1. If there is existing irrigated crop production on site within the 5 years preceding the application date, the property can be replanted in the same crop type and acreage with an Ag Offset Exemption. Planting new or expanded crops would require an On-Site Offset Clearance showing the new crop would use the same amount of water as the existing crop, or less.

2. If there is not existing irrigated crop production on site within the 5 years preceding the application date and if the site is not within the "area of severe decline", new irrigated crop production may be allowed with a one-time Ag Offset Exemption to plant crops that use up to 5 acre-feet per year of water (e.g., 4 acres of vineyard).

3. If there is not existing irrigated crop production on site within the 5 years preceding the application date and if the site is within the "area of severe decline", then there are no options for new or expanded irrigated crop production under the current ordinance.​

Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP)

The Agricultural Offset Ordinance is intended as a temporary measure until the GSP is implemented. On December 17, 2019, the County Board of Supervisors (Board) adopted the GSP. In March 2019, the Board will consider authorizing the start-up phase of GSP implementation. Information about the GSP is available at The management actions are discussed in Chapter 9.

Proposed Amendments to the Agricultural Offset Ordinance

On June 18, 2019, the Board directed staff to consider amendments to the Agricultural Offset Ordinance for the Paso Basin. 

Phase 1 Amendments - Effective December 5, 2019 (Click here to see the updated ordinance.)

  • Eliminate off-site offsets.

  • Extend the termination date to January 1, 2022.

  • Include a water duty factor for hemp and supplementally irrigated dry cropland.

  • Create a process to determine water duty factors for crops not specified in the ordinance.

Phase 1.5 Amendments - Planning Commission hearing June 11, 2020. Board of Supervisors hearing August 18, 2020.

  • Update the maps of the Paso Basin and the Area of Severe Decline to be consistent with the Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP).

  • Create a fallowing registration.





Blue = Unchanged. Green = Added. Orange = Removed.

To see the legend on the map:

  1. Click on Layers in the bottom left hand corner.

  2. Expand the Planning layer.

  3. Expand the Impacted Groundwater Basins layer. 

Planning Commission's Recommendation from June 11, 2020:

  1. Establish a fallowing program with an expiration date that is tied to implementation of regulations under the Groundwater Sustainability Plan.  Reach out to the Groundwater Sustainability Agencies to attempt to cooperate in the creation of such a program.

  2. Support staffs’ recommendation on amendments to de minimis language.

  3. Reject staffs’ recommendation on amendments to the mapping boundaries for the Area of Severe Decline. Additional studies are needed to generate the appropriate data to establish the boundary.

  4. Support staffs’ recommendation on amendments to the mapping boundaries for the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin.  In addition, recommend that the Board establish a process under which a landowner or the County could petition to modify the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin boundary.

  5. Add ordinance language clarifying how properties that are bisected by the boundary of the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin or the area of severe decline boundary are subject to County regulations for these areas under the Agricultural Offset Ordinance.

Phase 2 Amendments - Environmental determination pending.

  • Expand the definition of de minimus from 5 AFY to 25 AFY per site.

  • Extend the lookback period beyond 5 years.

  • Discuss re-allowing off-site offsets.

  • Revisit water offset fees and water usage assumptions.

  • Revisit the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin planning area standards prohibiting land divisions and General Plan Amendments.

  • Revisit the 1:1 offset requirement for the Nipomo Mesa.

To join the interest list to receive updates on the amendment process, please email Kylie Hensley at

© 2018 by County of San Luis Obispo Countywide Water Conservation Program.