On Tuesday our county supervisors took a step toward correcting the decreasing water levels in the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin. They told county administrators and public works people to bring them correction plans in a few weeks. Water levels in some wells have dropped as much as 100 feet.
The plan the supervisors eventually adopt should be based on fair sharing. The average person should be able to see that all water users, large and small, are guaranteed a fair share.
It should also include a way to sidestep the state law that generally allows property owners to pump as much water as they want for use on their property.
That law is just plain wrong. The water in a large underground basin is a common asset belonging to many people. Underground water may flow slowly but it flows. It knows no boundaries. If the wells of one property owner are sucking up more than his or her fair share, then he or she is taking it from other property owners, from his or her neighbors.
Many property owners will resist any regulations on the amounts they pump, but they are as wrong as the people were who once opposed air-pollution restrictions. The air is a common asset belonging to all the people who breathe it.
We now see that those air-quality rules and restrictions were beneficial and justified. Los Angeles smog is no longer a joke punchline as it once was for radio comedians. And more importantly, Angelenos are seeing and breathing cleaner air.
We also see that traffic regulations are beneficial for the safety of all drivers and their passengers. So likewise water-pumping regulations are needed for the benefit of all of the basin’s pumpers.
Also, if the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin is to be fairly shared, all wells should be metered. If the amount of water pumped from every well is metered, the actual amount of water being taken from the basin can be accurately measured.
Water-use information is now based on some volunteer metered wells, on municipal and other government wells and on estimates. If all wells are metered, the basin’s water deficit can be accurately measured and fair shares correctly determined.
Also, most people would probably obey fair-share restrictions and regulations on their pumping. But we know that a few would try to evade the rules. Meters on their wells might discourage potential cheaters.
There was once a time when the North County had few people and a seemingly inexhaustible groundwater supply. But that day has passed. We now need sensible, fair-share regulations.