Over the Hill

Are District 1 candidates up to task of managing the Paso Robles water basin?

All four candidates this year for District 1 San Luis Obispo County supervisor agree about the Paso Robles groundwater basin: They think it should be managed by the county, not the state.

I read that in last Friday’s Tribune.

Most of the basin is in District 1. Right now, nobody is officially managing it. Its underground water level has been dropping for years because more water is pumped out of it than rainfall can replace. Many California water basins are being overpumped. State law now requires them to be managed back into balance. The Paso Robles basin is one of the worst.

Voters in the basin recently rejected a ballot measure to create a Paso Robles Basin Water District. It would have been an independent local district. Its elected board would have managed the basin. Some people said they voted against it because it was another level of government and would have cost almost $1 million per year.

There are still two choices left. Either the county manages the basin or the state will. What does it mean to “manage” a groundwater basin? It sounds like a nasty job — unpleasant and thankless.

It could mean telling a landowner he can’t drill new wells, or telling a landowner she must pump less from existing wells. And it could mean telling people to put meters on their wells that could reveal overpumping. And it could mean telling landowners how deep their wells can be.

Rules are necessary. If I pump too much water, my neighbors’ wells could go dry. And when we pump too much water, the ground could sink. The sinking ground could wrinkle the face of the Earth, break pipelines and crack bridges.

Managing the groundwater basin is necessary work, but it could be difficult, involving arguments and grief. But somebody has to do it. There are actually five basins to manage in this county: Paso Robles, Los Osos, Edna Valley, Cuyama Valley and Nipomo Mesa.

All four candidates for District 1 county supervisor spoke last week to the Tribune Editorial Board. The candidates all agreed the county should manage its basins. Three of the candidates are from Paso Robles: retired attorney Dale Gustin, City Councilman John Hamon and Mayor Steve Martin. The fourth is businessman John Peschong of Templeton.

One of them will be elected this year to the county’s five-member Board of Supervisors. If the majority of the supervisors vote to manage the county’s water basins, I hope they’re strong enough and wise enough to handle the inevitable pressures and disputes.

Or would a state agency do a better job of managing the basins? There’s certainly no guarantee of that. Always remember the state Public Utilities Commission and its overly cozy relationship with PG&E.

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.