On Aug. 20 Paso Robles’ primary schools welcomed new flocks of kindergarten children. Their clothes were new and their hair had been combed. Some may become lifelong friends. And many will make up the high school class of 2029.
But what will the Paso Robles school district look like in 2029? After all, it sits on the Paso Robles groundwater basin, whose future is in doubt. We are pumping water from it faster than nature can replace it. The basin’s water level has dropped steadily for years.
Front page stories about pumping water from the basin appeared in The Tribune on Sept. 3 and Sept. 5. Those reports told of a new well, 1,500 feet deep, being drilled just outside the City of Paso Robles, near Barney Schwartz Park.
Two neighbors of the new well said it caused their wells to produce less water or go dry. That happened last month about the same time that the shiny new kindergarten kids had their first day of school.
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The well was drilled on the 500-acre Huerheuro Vineyard, which extends from Union Road to Linne Road. One of its neighbors, Mario Cusumano, said after that well was drilled his 300-foot well went dry. He’s had to haul water home for his family, which includes his wife and teenage daughter.
His nearby neighbor Dennis Bradshaw has two affected wells. He said they were still producing water but at noticeably slower rates than usual.
Both Cusumano and Bradshaw said their well problems started soon after they saw water flowing from the vineyard property. A spokeswoman for the vineyard said the flowing water resulted from the well drilling and testing.
The well was permitted by San Luis Obispo County, but the company lacked the necessary discharge permits from the state.
Large-scale irrigated agriculture continues to increase on the Paso Robles groundwater basin, and the basin’s water level continues to drop. Some of the basin’s small property owners have had to drill new wells or deepen old wells. I doubt that many can afford to drill and operate a 1,500-foot well.
But we keep pumping more water from the basin. Our often skimpy rainfalls can’t possibly replace it. And our rainfalls seem to be getting even skimpier lately. We are mining water.
It’s the old story of the farmer who owned a goose that laid golden eggs. The farmer wasn’t satisfied with one per day. So he finally killed the goose thinking she had an interior store of golden eggs but he found none. She could only produce one per day.
The Paso Robles groundwater basin can produce only so much water per year. So the question is: Are we going to kill it through overpumping or are we going to leave it healthy, to eventually be inherited by this new crop of kindergartners?