Over the Hill

We must act now on Paso Robles groundwater basin

Phil Dirkx
Phil Dirkx

Let’s form a Paso Robles Groundwater Basin Management District now. Let’s do it while the basin still has enough water to manage. Forming the district was recommended unanimously last week by the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin Blue Ribbon Steering Committee.

As you know, Paso Robles doesn’t own the groundwater basin. It was just named after the city. The basin stretches for 790 square miles under northern San Luis Obispo County and southern Monterey County. It stretches north well beyond Bradley, south almost to Santa Margarita, and goes east from Paso Robles to beyond Shandon.

It’s also in trouble. A 2010 report said the basin has had “a continued and widespread decline in groundwater levels since 1980.”

Friends of mine live on a small parcel in the basin area. In 2010 they told me they’d had to lower their pump a total of 110 feet during the previous 33 years. They also had to drill a new well for $15,000.

North County towns, cities, rural residents and farmers are pumping more water from our underground basin than winter rains can replace. So, last September the county supervisors passed a water conservation ordinance for the rural parts of the basin. It doesn’t affect Atascadero, Paso Robles, Templeton, Shandon and San Miguel.

It bans the creation of new real estate parcels. But it doesn’t prohibit building single-family houses on existing parcels, nor does it prohibit drilling new wells. It may slow but not stop the water level decline.

The proposed basin management district that was recommended last week by the Blue Ribbon Committee could stabilize the basin. It would have the authority to monitor water use and impose restrictions.

Joy Fitzhugh of the county Farm Bureau Federation spoke against proceeding now toward forming the district. She favored recommending only that the county supervisors study the feasibility of such a district.

I’m glad the Blue Ribbon committee rejected her idea. Engineers have studied the Paso Robles Groundwater basin since at least 2002.

I can understand why farmers don’t want more regulations, but the world has changed. When I was born in 1930, San Luis Obispo County’s population was 29,600, but it’s now 269,600. The United States’ population was 123 million and is now more than 315 million. The world population was about 2 billion and is now more than 7 billion. But the world’s water hasn’t increased a drop. We must conserve it.

On May 7 the Blue Ribbon Committee will ask the county supervisors to proceed toward forming the Basin Management District.