Viewpoint

Overuse of water a serious problem

June 13, 2013 

Got water? Many of our surrounding neighbors and friends don’t. I live east of Paso Robles on 2.5 acres. I’m scared about our dropping water levels and wells going dry. Every day I hear about more people in water crisis. Our neighbor ran a hose from our well to theirs while redrilling. The new well cost $35,000 and went 800 feet deep.

Locally, more than 6,000 parcels depend on wells, by conservative estimate, affecting about 20,000 people.

We have to solve the overuse problem. Other crops use water, but vineyards consume 50 percent to 75 percent of our inadequate resource. I’m not anti-vineyard. I’m against anyone using more than their fair share. Another 7,000 acres are coming, on top of the 34,000 acres already planted.

Even if you don’t use well water, please worry anyway. In Paso Robles, we’re all drawing from the Paso Robles groundwater basin, which well drillers report has dropped 100 feet in 10 years. That’s not sustainable. The city of Paso Robles has water restrictions.

You’re a South County resident? You’re in a different basin, but indirectly affected. Firefighters are nervous. Our economy loses when property values drop. Food costs rise. Water rates increase.

Several of our numerous concerns:

• We love our house. It’s supposedly our forever house. Without water, it’s worthless. We couldn’t live there or sell; who’d buy it?

•When a fire breaks out, will there be enough water to fight it?

• Property values are dropping.

Rural residents conserve. I was born country. My lawns are crunchy dry; we yanked out our six measly grapevines. My patio plants get the minimal water saved while the shower warms. So it’s infuriating and distressing that a mile away, they’re putting in several hundred more acres of grape saplings.

Haven’t driven our wine trails lately? You should. Drive any direction from Paso Robles: There’s an ugly juxtaposition of green vineyards next to tan, dry properties, ranches and farms.

Large vineyards drill new deep wells, sucking more water with much larger pipes and pumps. Deep pockets = deep wells.

The livelihoods of small agribusinesses, farmers, responsible vineyard owners, nurseries and olive growers are also in danger.

Need more information? Research at PROWaterEquity.org , a volunteer coalition of local landowners seeking solutions.

Can’t we just drill deeper? We may not hit water, it’s very expensive, there’s a finite amount of water, and we’re already 500 feet deep.

I heard someone, offensively, call water a “commodity to be managed.”

At the May Board of Supervisors meeting, frustratingly, the board never mentioned vineyard water reduction, limiting new vineyards or even reducing new plantings. We’re exasperated.

Supervisor Debbie Arnold suggested low-interest loans. That’s beside the point; we shouldn’t have to be drilling new wells. She suggested we truck in water. Expensive. Not a solution. It’s a Marie Antoinette answer, “Let them eat cake.” Anybody suggesting the vineyards or golf courses truck water? Several supervisors suggested acquiring water from other sources. I’d rather address the demand issue. The problem is overuse.

We met with Supervisor Frank Mecham, who’s deeply concerned. I asked him, “What can rural residents do to help?” He said he wants to hear from those affected. Please contact him.

When responding to my letters, Supervisors Adam Hill and Bruce Gibson were very sympathetic. Mr. Hill wrote, “I believe all the rural residents who depend on the basin must join together. Let their North County supervisors know how concerned they are. How you need their leadership now.”

Mr. Gibson wrote “I am quite concerned, and increasingly so. Getting this problem addressed is a fundamental matter of fairness.”

The supervisors said they fear lawsuits. No one wants litigation. Legally, domestic users have first rights. We’re David vs. Goliath. Theoretically, we’d win, if we don’t wither away first.

Again: I’m not anti-vineyard or anti-business. I want to stay. I pray we rural residents can retain a great quality of life. Paso Robles should be known for our people, the oaks, the fair, even the heat and, yes, its wines.

Our people and our property have to come first. There are hundreds of stories like mine. Please listen. You want a say? Speak up. Ask for restrictions. Talk to your friends. Host a neighborhood meeting. Contact your supervisors. Write letters. Share your stories: saveourwells@att.net  .

Elaine Hagen has lived in the Paso Robles area since 1999.

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