Paso Robles Vineyard Inc. violated state water regulations by discharging well-drilling runoff water into a natural creek without a permit, state regulators determined Thursday.
Results from a pending water quality test of the runoff will determine whether the vineyard will be fined by the state Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board.
The violation was discovered after The Tribune reported this week that at least two neighbors in unincorporated Paso Robles said their wells have been producing less water than normal or have gone dry since the drilling began at the nearby vineyard. Residents also said runoff over the last three to four weeks that ran down a culvert and spilled into a creek bed.
San Luis Obispo County environmental health officials visited the site on Thursday. Other than lacking the state discharge permits, county inspectors turned up no other wrongdoing.
Hydrogeologist Jordan Kear, whose company was contracted to design the well and oversee the drilling for the vineyard, said Friday, “The drilling is done and the testing is complete and the last part is the fine-tuning of the well system.”
That fine-tuning may produce more groundwater that will flow into a catchment basin, but he expects it would not be enough to spill from the basin into the culvert, he added.
The vineyard company is calling area residents to schedule a group meeting to address any concerns they have, a vineyard spokeswoman said Friday.
“They’re our neighbors so we want to be neighborly and answer their questions,” spokeswoman Simone Michel said. A date has not been set for the meeting.
Paso Robles Vineyard Inc., which sources grapes to various local wineries, started drilling a 1,500-foot well three to four weeks ago at its 500-acre HuerHeuro Vineyard located just outside city limits between Union and Linne roads by Barney Schwartz Park.
The well was permitted by the county, but the company didn’t have necessary discharge permits from the state.
The drilling, which county officials said ended Thursday, produced water runoff in the last three to four weeks during testing phases, a process normal to well drilling.
“They did three different pump tests a week apart, so that coincides with what the neighbors saw,” said Rich Lichtenfels, a county supervising environmental health specialist.
The water traveled north from the vineyard, down a culvert and spilled into the usually dry creek bed of Huerhuero Creek off Union Road.
Since the water didn’t naturally come from the creek bed, state regulators need to determine whether it contains any elements that would affect the creek bed’s natural habitat, said Sheila Soderberg, a senior engineering geologist with the water quality board.
When county environmental health staff visited the drilling site Thursday, neighbors said the water runoff flow stopped for the first time in weeks.
The county found that the vineyard was collecting the well runoff in a catchment basin, but that the basin had overflowed into the culvert and into the creek bed. The winery hopes to use the catchment water in whatever way it can, Lichtenfels said, depending on the water quality test results.
Michel had told The Tribune on Tuesday that there was no feasible way to capture the test runoff, but she clarified Friday that she was referring to the runoff from the catchment basin overflow, which wasn’t mentioned before.