Over the Hill

A river runs through Paso Robles - sometimes

Phil Dirkx
Phil Dirkx

Paso Robles is a city with a river running through it. But right now we Roblans must take that river on faith. Our river, the Salinas River, is now invisible. We’re somewhat used to that. Even in wet years it runs underground for most months or disguises itself as a temporary creek.

But for the past couple of years we haven’t seen even a temporary creek. We’ve seen dry sand, bushes, trees and tire tracks but no water. So, we must have faith that the river will return eventually, as it always has for thousands of years.

You could say we Paso Roblans have bet that the river will return. We built two large, multi-lane bridges over that often-dry Salinas River bed. We’re still paying for those bridges. And we’ve built many homes on both sides of the river.

We are told that the Salinas River is still there, underground, flowing north toward the city of Salinas and the Pacific Ocean. And we’re told we’re still getting water pumped from the Salinas River as it flows unseen though our city in the sands of the river bed.

We are pretty sure the river will eventually reappear on the surface if we get enough rain. It always has reappeared in the past. But water users along the river have greatly multiplied in recent years. For example, since 1970, the population of Paso Robles has more than quadrupled, from 7,200 to 30,000.

Populations have also increased near the river at San Miguel, Templeton, Atascadero and Santa Margarita.

Sure, there are other water sources besides the Salinas River. They include the Nacimiento pipeline and the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin. But pumping from the Salinas River has still greatly increased. We just have more people who drink water, launder clothes, shower and irrigate landscaping.

This isn’t just a Paso Robles problem or a Salinas Valley problem. It’s a human problem. In my lifetime the human population of the Earth has gone from 2 billion in 1930, to 7.23 billion today, and it is still growing.

And we are still granting building permits and building new houses and apartments. That’s what the human race does. It multiplies and grows and it needs places to live.

We the people of Paso Robles or the North County can’t stop human multiplication, but we can increase water conservation and rethink our growth plans.

Maybe it’s time to take a second look at the feasibility of a creating a sea-water desalting plant on the coast with a pipeline to the North County. Maybe it could serve other county areas. Maybe we should at least include it in our list of long-range potential necessities.