Well drilling at a North County vineyard has prompted water trouble for at least two neighbors in unincorporated Paso Robles, who say their wells have been producing less water than normal or have gone dry since the drilling began.
Paso Robles Vineyard Inc., a company that sources grapes to various local wineries, confirmed Tuesday that it’s drilling a new well at its 500-acre HuerHeuro Vineyard located just outside city limits between Union and Linne roads by Barney Schwartz Park.
The drilling has produced runoff in the last three to four weeks, which has concerned residents. The water is traveling north from the vineyard, down a culvert and spilling into the usually dry creek bed off Huerhuero Creek off Union Road.
“It’s quite a bit of water,” neighbor Dennis Bradshaw said Tuesday as he looked over the water flowing down the creek and motioned to the hill above. “And to start up there and be coming all this way and still be flowing and then pooling — that’s a lot.”
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Bradshaw is one of two neighbors who live north of the vineyard along the creek who told The Tribune that since the runoff started to flow, their wells have been struggling.
“My well went dry as soon as the water started (to appear),” said Mario Cusumano, who rents a home with a 300-foot well at 3510 Union Road.
Cusumano, who has lived there 19 years, shares the home with his wife and teenage daughter. He’s had to truck in water for the last three weeks, he said. They’re currently getting water from friends, but have to conserve more than ever. They brush their teeth with water from a small cup, limit their cooking, wash dishes with a dampened sponge only and limit showers to quick rinses.
“It’s a pain in the ass,” Cusumano said, likening the family’s life to camping. “There’s stress and worry every day when I come home on whether there will be enough.”
A Paso Robles Vineyard Inc. spokeswoman said Tuesday that the company started drilling the new well three to four weeks ago. It’s testing several drill sites to find a usable source of water for the new well, said Simone Michel, the vineyard’s marketing director. The testing phase is producing water runoff, which she said is a normal outcome.
Some neighbors were concerned the vineyard’s well was leaking or couldn’t be capped.
“There’s definitely no leak,” Michel said, adding that the cost would be prohibitive to capture and use any overflow water related to the testing.
The vineyard and homes are in the Paso Robles groundwater basin, which has been facing a crisis in the last few years as residents report wells going dry or and water levels dropping. The county is currently looking at options to manage the basin.
On Aug. 27, 2013, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors passed an emergency ordinance that required a 1-1 water conservation offset for any new agricultural planting in the basin. But that ordinance expired Aug. 27, 2015, with talks ongoing for a new long-term ordinance proposed to replace it.
Paso Robles Vineyard Inc. has three approved county permits, dated Aug. 26, 2013, to drill three new wells, supervising environmental health specialist Rich Lichtenfels said Wednesday.
One is for the current well, which is permitted for 1,500 feet, while the other two are for 800-foot wells, he said. His staff plans to visit the vineyard on Thursday to confirm that there is only one well being drilled currently.
The Cusumano family is considering its options, including whether to wait it out or move.
Bradshaw, his neighbor, owns two parcels just west of Cusumano’s house along the creek. He has two wells, one directly next to Cusumano’s house that’s having trouble and another one about three-eighths of a mile west that’s not yet affected. Bradshaw’s land has two houses on it plus a commercial workshop.
Bradshaw’s residential tenant at 3450 Union Road told him she ran out of water on Friday, he said.
“They called up and said ‘We got no water in our tank,’” he said, adding that the tank has never gone dry since the well was drilled in the 1990s.
A maintenance crew checked it out on Monday. The inspection showed a “marginal issue.” The well wasn’t dry, but its pumps struggled to replenish the tank fast enough. Bradshaw wasn’t sure how deep his well is but said he was thankful he didn’t have to truck in water like Cusumano.
Bradshaw told his tenant to stop watering her yard until the issue is resolved.
“You have no idea the things you take for granted that you’ll miss,” he said.
Bradshaw said he has a love-hate relationship with the situation because while his well at 3450 Union Road is being affected, he suspects his other well is producing better because the runoff is pooling and sinking into the ground at that property.