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Santa Barbara County will continue playing a part in the formation of a groundwater sustainability agency to manage the eastern fringe areas of the Santa Maria Valley Groundwater Basin, at least for now.

The move, in part, is aimed at helping keep property owners with private wells in those fringe areas from being subject to state reporting and fee requirements.

"(Participating) will buy time for the landowners so they aren't immediately subject to the state's regulations," Matt Young, ‎county water resources program manager, told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

There are roughly 40 small parcels in the fringes of the groundwater basin that extends from Santa Maria to Pismo Beach, Young said.

California's Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) is driving the formation of a groundwater sustainability agency to manage the fringe areas not included as part of a 2008 court-stipulated agreement settling a decades-old lawsuit over water rights in the basin.

If a groundwater sustainability agency isn't formed by the June 30, 2017, deadline, the state will step in and take over. San Luis Obispo County currently has jurisdiction over most of the fringes.

Continuing to have a seat at the table also will give the county's water agency additional time to work with the state to determine how to manage the fringe areas of the groundwater basin, Young said.

"There's a very good chance we may be able to exclude the fringe areas," he said.

The majority of the groundwater basin was covered by the court-stipulated agreement, however, numerous parcels east of Highway 101, now commonly known as the fringe areas, weren't included.

Enacted in January 2015, SGMA requires the formation of a groundwater sustainability agency, which then must assess the conditions of a basin and adopt a groundwater sustainability plan based on its findings.

Supervisors questioned the costs of participating in the groundwater sustainability agency's formation, but Deputy Public Works Director Tom Fayram told the board he believes his staff will easily be able to write a sustainability plan for the basin, monitor wells in the area and move forward from that point. 

"If we get into a situation where this costs a lot of money, we'd come back to the board for direction," Fayram said. "If the costs were an inordinate amount of money, I don't think we'd be proposing to move forward."

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April Charlton covers Santa Barbara County for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow her on Twitter@WordsDawn