The sprawling Paso Robles groundwater basin —which supplies vineyards and many North County communities — is in overdraft.
That’s the conclusion of a report the county Planning Commission will consider at a hearing Thursday. County supervisors are tentatively scheduled to hear the report Nov. 9.
Overdraft means that more water is being pumped out of underground aquifers than is being naturally replaced.
Planners are recommending that the county adopt a variety of collaborative measures to deal with the problem. These include stepped-up monitoring, conservation measures and controls on land use.
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“The number of groundwater users and the overdraft state of the basin now requires the groundwater users to join forces and to closely collaborate in basin management activities,” the report concluded.
The Paso Robles groundwater basin covers a 790-square-mile area from Garden Farms near Atascadero north to San Ardo in Monterey County. A collaborative approach is needed because no one agency alone has the authority to fix the problem, said James Caruso, county senior planner.
“There are numerous legal and policy issues that must be addressed before the county or other entity can take action to regulate groundwater use,” he said.
Stepped-up monitoring is needed because cities and other urban water providers are the only entities that keep track of how much water they pump out of the ground. Individual well owners do not.
“No one knows how much water is really being used,” Caruso said. “We are taking an educated guess.”
Possible conservation measures include subsidies to encourage water conservation and promoting the use of best management practices in vineyards. Many vineyards already use practices to minimize water consumption, said Stacie Jacob, executive director of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance.
“We won’t deny that we are a large user of water, but we are an efficient user,” she said.
Land-use controls could include requirements that new development offset water use or growth management policies that limit new development.
The Nacimiento Pipeline Project is expected to become operational later this year and will make more water available to some North County communities.
“It’s taken us years to get into this problem, and it will take us years to get out of it,” Caruso said.
Reach David Sneed at 781-7930.