Over the Hill

When groundwater was abundant in the North County

Special to The TribuneAugust 22, 2013 

Alice White was 6 when her family moved onto 38 rented acres in Shandon. That was 1939, and water on the property was abundant. It flowed naturally from an artesian well. It needed no pump.

Contrast that with the story about rapidly declining water levels in the Paso Robles groundwater basin, which lies under most of the North County including Shandon. Maps that accompanied the story showed that between 1997 and 2013 underground water levels near Shandon dropped in some places by more than 70 feet.

Alice White’s parents, Lowell and Nellie Stiles, eventually bought the 38 acres. They raised alfalfa on about 20 acres and irrigated it with water from the artesian well. That water gushed up from an upright pipe and was collected in a surrounding masonry basin. From there it flowed in a ditch to the alfalfa field.

Alice White said they fed the alfalfa to their 18 or so dairy cattle.

After milking the cows they separated the cream from the milk. They sold the cream to a store in Shandon and fed the skim milk to their pigs and chickens. They sold any surplus alfalfa to other farmers.

In the 1940s gypsum was discovered on their property. My dictionary says gypsum is a sulfate of calcium used in cement. Alice White said a company bought their gypsum to sell as a soil amendment. In 1947 her family built a new house with their gypsum money. It cost $3,000.

By 1948 the artesian well’s natural flow had diminished. That may have been caused by increased irrigation in the region. Or maybe it was just a natural decrease in the artesian pressure. It soon became necessary to install a pump.

The Shandon area actually had several artesian wells. They are mentioned in the book, “Images of America Paso Robles” by Andrea H. Hobbs and Milene F. Radford of the Paso Robles Pioneer Museum.

On Page 17 the book shows a 1908 photo of a gushing artesian well, a drilling rig, and Shandon well drillers Dean Brown and Fred Tucker.

The article says a belt of artesian water was reported in the 1920s along Cholame Creek near Shandon. It was about 1½ miles wide. The property that Alice White’s family owned was near the confluence of the San Juan and Cholame creeks.

The article also said more than 12 artesian wells existed near Shandon. They were between 200 and 375 feet deep and were used to irrigate alfalfa.

Alice married Wilbur White in 1951 and moved to Parkfield. She said her parents sold their place around 1952. And now, 60 years later, readily abundant groundwater in the Shandon area is “history.”

Phil Dirkx has lived in Paso Robles for more than five decades, and his column is published weekly. Reach him at 238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.

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