Letters to the Editor

Viewpoint: Groundwater vital to rural areas

I would like to thank Mr. Dick Rogers for his viewpoint on Aug. 17 regarding the groundwater basin and a proposed water conservation ordinance. He has helped break the silence on this important issue. Those of us in the rural areas depend entirely on groundwater. We have no other source of supply. Stabilization of the basin is critical. Without water, our homes are worthless.

He is correct that the local media has hardly covered the groundwater declines in North County. Why not investigate this newsworthy issue of key concern to the residents of the North County? Could it be the big grape-colored thing in the room?

Meantime, rural residents with dry or failing wells are losing their homes due to the inability to pay $30,000 or more for a new well — assuming there is water at the greater depth.

Mr. Rogers is correct that there has been more than a decade spent studying and analyzing this basin. We know that the well levels have declined during the last 14 years, in some areas by more than 80 feet. The facts are clear. It is past time for action.

He is correct that Paso Robles experienced a high rate of growth in population between 2000 and 2010. Exponential growth in vineyard planting also occurred during that time. He did not mention the more than 20 percent increase in the number of rural residents during that time frame.

What Mr. Rogers misunderstands is that each new parcel will most probably result in another home, another well and another straw in the basin. When we do not have adequate water for existing residents, how can we allow more lots to be created?

People talk about lot splits or subdivision for estate planning purposes. What if the property is only an acre in size and there are four children in the family? Do we create quarter-acre lots in the rural area, each dependent on its own well? What if the parents own a home on a standard-size lot in town? Do they physically divide up the house to give to their heirs?

The ability to subdivide land is not a property right, it is a privilege. The regulation of subdivision of land appropriately belongs to our local government. In making zoning laws, our government decisionmakers consider the resources available to serve parcels of land. When adequate water resources do not exist, land divisions that result in additional demands on our water supply can rightfully be restricted.

According to the county, there are approximately 1,500 undeveloped parcels within the basin. Each of these parcel owners has the right to drill a well. Without water for the parcels that exist now, it is irresponsible to create even more parcels.

You will hear people say that this ordinance will not save enough water. Compared to the tens of thousands of acre-feet pumped for irrigation without any restrictions, the savings seem small, but we must start somewhere, do the right thing and conserve water in every way that we can. And, the savings would increase each year yielding a significant increase in water conserved over time.

On Sept. 25, the Board of Supervisors will consider a land use ordinance to restrict further subdivision of land within the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin. The ordinance has already been recommended for approval by the Water Resources Advisory Committee, the Creston advisory body and the Planning Commission. By adopting this ordinance, the county will be doing what it can within its limited authority to deal with the declining groundwater levels. This proposed ordinance is a responsible approach that addresses a serious problem. Declining water levels put all rural property owners at risk and greatly impact our property values.

Maria Lorca is a retired teacher who served on a county blue ribbon committee on antiquated subdivisions in rural areas. She has lived in the county for about 50 years, owns a ranch in Creston and has been closely following North County groundwater issues.