Over the Hill

Paso Robles, Nipomo groundwater rules are a good first step

If my bank account becomes overdrawn, what should I do? First, I should quit spending more money than I make. Then I should manage my money more sensibly.

And if our county’s water basins are overdrawn — and they are — what should we do? We should quit pumping more water from our wells than our rains can replace. We should manage our water more sensibly.

On Tuesday, our county Board of Supervisors voted to do just that. Their vote was 3-2 to adopt countywide water conservation rules. One rule I liked will regulate new pumping from the Paso Robles groundwater basin and the Nipomo Mesa area.

The new rules take effect in 30 days. Then, if you want to pump water for a new use from either basin, you must follow the new rules. You must offset your new water pumping with an equal amount of new water conservation, such as turf removal, crop replacement or plumbing retrofits.

In addition, new wells in the two basins must have meters to measure groundwater pumping. There will also be fees.

For the Paso Robles groundwater basin, those new rules will end in 2020. The basin must then have a comprehensive, sustainable groundwater management plan. In August, the Paso Robles basin was No. 4 on a state list of “critically overdrafted” basins. The state has 515 groundwater basins.

Some of the county’s other new water conservation rules affect all of its rural areas. Those rules include banning wasteful and ill-timed watering.

Voting to approve the new rules were county supervisors Frank Mecham, Bruce Gibson and Adam Hill. Voting against them were Lynn Compton and Debbie Arnold.

The board also voted to direct county officials to investigate the drilling of deep wells, possibly thousands of feet deep. I wonder if that will include the 1,500-foot well that was drilled in August near Barney Schwartz Park. Two neighbors said it caused their wells to produce less water or go dry.

Supervisor Compton explained her vote against the new rules. She was reported to have said she wanted to pursue ways to increase water supplies instead of just relying on water conservation.

I agree wholeheartedly that we need to increase water supplies, not just conserve. The conservation rules adopted Tuesday won’t solve our water problems. They’ll just help keep them from getting worse.

Even under these new rules, we’ll still pump more water from our underground basins than our rains can replace. We must consider more water sources, such as the reclaiming of treated sewage water. We should also evaluate the desalination of seawater, and we should capture more runoff rainwater. We must think.

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 238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.