July 07, 2013 | John Allan Peschong | Permalink | ShareThis

The Paso Robles groundwater basin is among our county’s most precious natural resources. While we cannot gaze upon it with wonderment like our beautiful coastline, we can see its impact in the life-supporting water it provides thousands of homes and businesses, including our agriculture industry, which is so critical to SLO County’s economy. Just take a moment and imagine what the North County would look like without an abundant source of clean, affordable water. Much of the land would be dry and barren — a pretty inhospitable place to live or farm. As with any natural resource, conservation must be employed to preserve the Paso Robles groundwater basin. Unfortunately, some in our county want to make the groundwater basin a campaign issue — pitting neighbors against neighbors and creating villains for the sake of political gain. However, if we are going to achieve real solutions that sustain the basin, we must put aside the yelling and screaming and the politicization of this issue. It is not in the interest of any of the stakeholders, from rural homeowners and developers to vineyards and municipalities, to drain the aquifer dry. In fact, for more than a decade, vineyards have taken the lead to conserve water as part of their sustainability efforts.

The majority of vineyard acreage in the county is now certified as sustainable — reflecting their measurable commitment toward habitat conservation, energy efficiency, pest management and human resources, in addition to water conservation. Most of the vineyards in the Paso Robles area employ the newest irrigation technology, including soil moisture monitoring equipment and drip irrigation systems to help conserve water and energy. Not to mention Cal Poly’s considerable viticulture research that provides area vineyards with access to groundbreaking innovations that can improve sustainability. Despite the water conservation efforts of our area vineyards, a vocal minority of people in the county has suggested water restrictions for vineyards as well as prohibitions to planting new vineyards. These actions would have severe consequences, including lost jobs and tax revenue. Wineries, vineyards and related services account for about 8,100 jobs in the county and contribute $1.7 billion in economic value to SLO County, including more than $86 million in state and local taxes. We don’t have to look far to see the impact of water restrictions. In the Central Valley, dry weather and regulatory water cuts are causing thousands of acres of farmland to go fallow, which is exacerbating the region’s high unemployment that is already above 11 percent. So what is the solution to managing the Paso Robles groundwater basin and ad dressing water shortages? First, residents with an emergency water problem should be able to contact the county, which could provide some assistance in water delivery or drilling a new well. Second, realize that when droughts occur, they affect the water table. So when drilling a new well, don’t just stop once you hit water, but spend a little more money upfront to drill further and provide yourself a buffer during dry years like we have experienced lately. Third, the county is currently conducting a thorough computer modeling of the basin, which will provide a great deal of insight about the current state of the aquifer and how if can be better managed. For instance, recharging the aquifer with recycled water could be an option, but first, we need to learn the facts.

Finally, where it is practicable, residents and businesses should consider forming small, locally controlled water districts. The Garden Farms Community Water District near Santa Margarita and Atascadero is an example. Small water districts are better able to serve local interests and stakeholders versus a large bureaucratic district, which would be more prone to disputes and costly litigation.

I believe we can sustainably manage the Paso Robles groundwater basin, but we must stop politicizing it and turning it into a campaign issue. By working together we can find real solutions.