Over the Hill

Two water districts will help preserve the Paso Robles basin

Dana Merrill, standing next to one of the wells that irrigates his property, owns Pomar Junction Vineyard & Winery and is helping to form the Estrella-El Pomar-Creston water district in the North County.
Dana Merrill, standing next to one of the wells that irrigates his property, owns Pomar Junction Vineyard & Winery and is helping to form the Estrella-El Pomar-Creston water district in the North County. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

The recent rains have been a blessing and a nuisance.

They are turning the world green and making it more fire-resistant. They are refilling lakes and reservoirs. They also leak through my roof in a couple of places. But I’m happy to say two professional roofers were on my roof one day this week patching.

And we mustn’t forget this welcome wetness is just temporary. Where I live in the North County, our weather is usually dry and often very hot. Also, the world is getting hotter. We were recently told that the temperature of the Earth has set new records for heat for each of the past three years.

So we must find better ways to capture, store and use the water that nature provides. That may be why last Sunday’s Tribune featured efforts to conserve the water that nature brings to the Paso Robles groundwater basin.

But we have trouble deciding how to use that basin’s water without depleting it. So it was front-page news that two groups of Paso Robles Basin landowners are now working to form two districts in the basin to help manage that precious water source.

One proposed district would cover 144,000 acres of the basin. The other district will include 45,000 acres. And there’s still a lot of room for more. The total relevant area of the Paso basin is 577,349 acres. These two districts are being proposed in the basin where a proposed basin-wide water district was rejected by about 78 percent of the basin’s voters in March.

It was rejected even though it could have helped conserve the basin’s water. It might have prevented the pumpers with the biggest pumps and deepest wells from hogging more than their fair shares of the basin’s water.

 

A map of the entire Paso Robles basin shows where the two proposed districts would be situated. One is called the Shandon-San Juan district. On the map, it looks like a big patch of mostly connected land. The other proposed district is called Estrella-El Pomar-Creston. It is scattered all over the map, almost like confetti.

To me, the future of these two proposed districts seems uncertain as long as the remaining two-thirds of the Paso Robles basin stays unmanaged. Pumpers in unmanaged areas with bigger pumps and deeper wells may out-pump the managed districts. Underground water flows where it will, regardless of surface boundary lines.

The article reported that state law requires the Paso Robles groundwater basin to be properly managed by 2020. If not, the state could intervene. What the intervention would consist of wasn’t specified. That’s less than three years from now.

Phil Dirkx’s column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Paso Robles for more than five decades, and his column appears here every week. Reach Dirkx at 805-238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.

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