Over the Hill

Paso Robles residents are not water freeloaders

I’m a Paso Roblan. We Roblans aren’t water freeloaders. But you might think we are if you read the ballot argument against forming the Paso Robles groundwater basin district. It was in Sunday’s Tribune.

It was written by Cody Ferguson of Paso Robles Water Integrity Network. I’ve never met him, but I’d like to. He’s against having another layer of government and new taxes. Those are legitimate worries, but I worry more about the Paso Robles basin’s continually dropping water level.

He did write something that troubled me. He said, “Even more unfairly, only certain vulnerable rural residents, farmers and ranchers of the Paso Robles groundwater basin will be forced to pay this unnecessary tax — it does not apply to the whole basin. City populations, urban developers and municipal appropriators will not be effected by this tax.”

I hoped Cody Ferguson wasn’t implying that we Paso Roblans are freeloaders about paying for water. But when I looked at the map of the proposed groundwater basin, the only urban, municipal city I saw was Paso Robles. It was white, with crisscrossed black lines. I took that to mean it wasn’t part of the district, which is true.

San Miguel, Shandon and Whitley Gardens were depicted the same way. They also have their own water systems. But the terms “city,” “urban” and “municipal” don’t usually apply to them. So, Ferguson must have meant Paso Robles. But Paso Robles doesn’t evade its water costs.

For example, a Tribune headline last month said, “Paso Robles spending nearly $77 million to increase water supplies.” You may have missed that story. It was in the Christmas Day edition.

It told of three projects, two of which are already completed. One is the treatment plant for the 6,488 acre-feet of water that Paso Robles is entitled to from the Nacimiento Lake pipeline. Building that treatment plant cost the city $11.7 million. Now during winter months, Paso Robles may just use the treated Nacimiento water instead of pumping groundwater.

Paso Robles also spent $47 million to expand and improve its sewage-treatment plant. The treated water that the plant discharges into the Salinas River now meets all state standards. And construction should start by early 2017 on an $18 million plant to treat sewage water sufficiently to irrigate parks, golf courses and such. Paso Robles also pays its share of the construction and operating cost of the Nacimiento pipeline.

To pay those and other costs, our City Council proposes to gradually raise water rates. A water bill that averages $39.60 per month today would rise to $69.04 by 2021. And in the Paso Robles groundwater basin the people may soon pay water district taxes or maybe they’ll just drill deeper wells.

We must all pay one way or another for our scarce water.

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.