San Luis Obispo County supervisors must regulate aquifer in North County

Special to The TribuneJune 27, 2013 

I can’t help wondering how many of you actually read that five-day special report in The Tribune last week. It explained the crisis in the Paso Robles groundwater basin.

It wasn’t as much fun as articles about sports heroes or immature movie stars. I read it all. You’ve probably noticed that I have water on the brain. But I bet it was read by 90 percent of the grape growers and winemakers, and by 95 percent of the rural residents living east of Paso Robles where wells are running dry or threatening to.

But if you ignored it, what I’m hoping to do is make you feel guilty. Please dig out those back issues (June 16-20) or find them on the Internet.

Water problems anywhere in California are important to all Californians. But even more importantly, the county supervisor who represents your district will, with the other four supervisors, be called on to cure the crisis. They should pursue pumping regulations for the Paso Robles groundwater basin.

The basin’s crisis was caused by alarming declines in the water levels in that natural underground reservoir. They’ve fallen as much as 80 to 100 feet or more. The water is being pumped out faster than nature can replace it.

Some rural residents have been forced to spend many thousands of dollars to lower their pumps or drill new wells. Many North County people have noticed the rapid spread of irrigated vineyards. They’re convinced that the increased vineyards are pumping out too much groundwater.

The Tribune has reported that 3,000 to 8,000 more acres of grapevines are expected to be planted this year. Back in 1972 there were only 540 acres of wine grapes in the entire county.

Today the North County alone has about 32,000 acres of them. Most tap the Paso Robles groundwater basin. But it isn’t just the increasing vineyards that stress the basin.

In the past 30 years the population of Atascadero grew from 18,000 to 31,124 and Paso Robles’ population from 10,600 to 30,200. Last year Atascadero used 5,753 acre-feet of water and Paso Robles, 6,694.

A 2006 report estimated that vineyards in the North County tapped the groundwater basin that year for more than 39,000 acre-feet.

There’s a popular saying that goes, “When you’re in a hole, stop digging.” My version goes like this: “If the hole is going dry, regulate the pumping.” The Paso Robles groundwater basin obviously needs to have its pumping regulated.

The county supervisors should promptly pursue those regulations. Please support your supervisor in producing effective regulations.

Phil Dirkx's column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Paso Robles for more than five decades, and his column appears here every week. Reach Dirkx at 238-2372 or

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