The headline stated, “Paso’s water basin in overdraft.” It was on the front page of the Sept. 19 Tribune.
It seems that many of us here in the North County and in southern Monterey County may have overdrawn our joint account in our water bank. Our water bank is the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin.
The farm I grew up on in New York state had both groundwater and rainwater. The groundwater came from a well outside the kitchen door.
The rainwater was in a cistern under the kitchen. The cistern was made of rocks and mortar and was fed from the roof. The well was hand-dug and lined with fitted rocks without mortar so groundwater could seep in.
The hand pump for the groundwater was maybe four feet tall, but the cistern’s hand pump was much smaller and sat on the kitchen sink-board. Well water was for cooking and drinking. Cistern water was for laundry and shampooing.
We washed our hands and faces in a white, enameled, steel basin. It had little in common with the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin, which is huge and underground.
Paso’s spreads out beneath 790 square miles. It stretches north from Atascadero almost to San Ardo, and extends from Paso Robles easterly past Shandon. It also has fingers stretching downward toward Santa Margarita and La Panza.
To say our account in that water bank is overdrawn may be an overstatement. Maybe it’s only on the brink of being overdrawn. It’s hard to be sure.
The water is underground in layers of gravel, sand and other porous rubble. But engineers have studied well records and other statistics. They feel confident enough to make estimates.
They estimate that our water basin is teetering. It’s near the balance point between the amount we withdraw and the amount deposited by rainfall and other sources.
The engineers also know that in the past 20 years, groundwater levels north and east of Paso Robles have dropped by 40 feet and possibly by as much as 200 feet in some places. Where will that happen next? It will happen if things don’t change.
Our groundwater basin isn’t inexhaustible. Once we start withdrawing more from our water bank than gets deposited, it’ll be all downhill from there.
County officials, city officials, grape growers, environmentalists and others are already thinking about this.
The county Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission will hold a joint public hearing Nov. 9. They will discuss a cooperative strategy for preventing water bankruptcy. Next week’s column will be about that strategy.
Reach Phil Dirkx at 238-2372 or firstname.lastname@example.org.