Jim and Carolyn Minnis live nearly over the middle of the Paso Robles groundwater basin.
During the past 33 years, they’ve had to lower their water pump a total of 110 feet. That also involved drilling a new well for $15,000.
Engineers estimate the Paso Robles groundwater basin could now be in deficit or close to it.
That would mean we’re pumping more water out of the basin than flows back in from rain and other sources.
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People sometimes call this aquifer Paso’s water basin.
But, of course, Paso Robles doesn’t own it, any more than San Francisco owns the San Francisco Bay Area.
This water basin belongs to all the owners of the 790 square miles that lie over it in the North County and southern Monterey County.
And it’s nothing like a wash basin. It’s more like an underground sponge made of sand, gravel and porous rock.
All the owners of those 790 square miles have the right, under California law, to pump from the basin.
And if we keep pumping more than flows back in, we won’t leave enough for our children and grandchildren.
We will also destroy our property value. We will kill the goose that lays our golden eggs.
So why doesn’t the government do something? Well, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission will hold a joint public hearing on the problem Nov. 9. But their powers are limited.
California law lets property owners pump just about as much water as they want from under their property to use on that property. The county can’t limit how much water the property owners pump to irrigate their grape vineyards, golf courses, graveyards or what not.
The supervisors could declare the basin’s problem to be at the highest “level of severity.” That would prevent any new real estate development on the basin.
The supervisors might also require owners of new wells to meter those wells and report water use and well levels. That would help county officials try to manage groundwater use.
Also the state could step in and change its water law. Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico already have stricter groundwater laws.
They require well permits. They actively manage groundwater use. They require reports on well use, and they make those reports public.
But our county officials lack those powers. They have to rely more on voluntary, cooperative water-management efforts based on the enlightened self-interest of all water users. That is a lot to expect from a bunch of humans.
Contact Phil Dirkx at email@example.com or 238-2372.