There’s been a lot of hubbub recently over water in Paso Robles. I’m sure it’s been going on for more than a little while but I have noticed an absolutely huge increase in articles on the subject as well as day to day chatter. The county supervisors are meeting over the issue and many groups are trying to come up with answers.
Some think we should ban or severely limit the vineyards from using the water and that we should not allow new wells to be dug. Some think there are other answers.
What do I think?
Well, I do not know what the answer is but I do know this is another case of nobody doing a damn thing about it until it becomes urgent. Why is it we don’t take nature seriously? That’s my question. Issues in nature are similar to your bank account. You can only spend/ use what is there and if you over use you end up empty. Nature does not give “credit”…it’s a cash only business. If we use all the water or too much too fast…we have simply screwed ourselves.
For being the smartest and most “civilized” animals on the planet we sure are stupid. How come none of this was thought of before? It’s not like this area was once a rain forest. California, much of it anyways, is perpetually in a drought…isn’t it? Is this new to us? Did we think we could kick the can down the road yet again? Why not, let’s let our kids, grandkids, and great grandkids worry about it.
I am sure there are many sides to this issue and I do not claim to know them all. I do know that this is a real issue and if we only handle it from a political or business point of view we will lose. We need to do what is right…and again, I do not claim to know what that is. Turning “water” into a political issue is a load of crap and that tells me it will not be solved responsibly or quickly enough.
For once I wish all the people involved in this issue…the city government, the county government, the farmers, and the anti-farmers would all come together and do something…anything. I for one think the farmers are massively important. People that grow things are the backbone of this country…and especially Paso Robles. We all need to do a little bit more to take care of this planet of ours. We all need to do what we can to conserve water as much as humanly possible.
I do not have the answers and I did not write this claiming that I do. My point in writing this was to share the links below to several articles by the SLO Tribune and a blog post written by a local farmer. I also wrote this to remind us all that we can be doing more. The Earth will continue on after we die, we really need to do more to take care of it for the limited amount of time we are here.
Conserve, recycle, repurpose, reuse. The time to start is yesterday!
Paso Ground Water Decision Put on Hold Via the SLO Tribune
Wine and Water: Deep trouble in the North County Via the SLO Tribune
Wine and Water: In rural North County, All is Not Well Via the SLO Tribune
Wine and Water: Liquid Gold in a Glass Via the SLO Tribune
Wine and Water: Paso’s Water Gamble Via the SLO Tribune
Wine and Water: Search for Solutions Via the SLO Tribune
Where I Stand On The Paso Robles Groundwater Basin Controversy Via Hilary Graves
Mark Gabler says
EVERYONE involved in this has their own special interest to protect. Nature only provides enough rain to add 2″ a year to the aquifer. There is no way you can grow a crop on 2″ of supplemental water (that besides rainfall) in a desert.environment like Paso Robles. So farmers who irrigate take more than their share. Cities take more than their share. Rural dwellers take more than their share. As more and more land is developed and irriganted, the aquifer has become overdrafted.
Is there a solution? Not one that won’t hurt. The first step is to agree that the basin is managed as a single entity. No special interests taking what they want from “their” part of the basin. Everyone needs to feel the pain of conservation.
The solution for grape growers: eliminate growing grapes for export. That is like exporting water. To make a barrel of wine, you need to grow 1,000 pounds of grapes. Very conservatively, the vines need 20 gallons of irrigation water to grow 1 pound of grapes. About 2/3 the grapes grown in Paso Robles are exported to other areas to make wine. Grapes consume about 2/3 the total water used in the area. So by eliminating grape export, we would conserve about half our water consumption in the north county. We could still enjoy most of the economic benefit the area gets from the grape and wine industry. Is this fair? No. Is it a solution? Yes.
For those who don’t like this solution, please propose an alternative. All I have heard from the big corporate growers (PRAAGS) is don’t worry, let the growers manage the problem and they will take care of it. That is not a solution.
Hoot (or Matt) says
Mark, what you are saying makes sense. That said I don’t know what the right thing to do is.
I agree that everyone needs to suffer in this fight to conserve our resources. We all need to stop acting as if these natural resources will be here forever.
One way to get everyone to slow their consumption is to charge a ton of money for it. That way everyone is equally impacted.
I appreciate the comment and hopefully something will change.
Matt and Mark –
While I understand your views, I have to comment: Agricultural use of water, regardless of type, it vital for our county’s welfare. There is no other industry that contributes more back into our economy. That is not to say the Ag deserves more than others, but if you propose we scale back agriculture to a fraction of what it is now, the local economy will fail. If you are willing to impact jobs well-beyond the scope of agriculture, then this is an option. If you enjoy the lifestyle this area provides, you must find a way for agriculture to thrive.
Scaling back agriculture would spark the decimation of agricultural lands and the sale to large investors who will either wait out the drought cycle (and fret over water) and plant back to agriculture without local ties or put big money into carving up those former Ag lands to development. And what we don’t need here are strip malls and big box stores: we may as well all move to LA.
As for cities, they must become more efficient water users. Who needs a front lawn these days? I’m tired of seeing water running down gutter in mid-July. Are we metering that wastefulness?
As for rural dwellers, of which I am one, they need to realize BEFORE they become land owners, that they are their own municipality – they own their water systems and should keep informed on their water source. Most do not. They assume that the water tank will continue to fill without even knowing at what levels they draw from. Many wells that have gone dry are older, shallow wells that, in high drought conditions, naturally go dry first. Had an owner realized this and watched their water levels, the prudent thing to do would be to plan for the inevitable. Instead, wells have gone dry and the finger pointing commenced. I have yet to read about any land owner who admitted that they failed to watch levels and are partially responsible for their dire situations.
I work in the vineyard and wine business. I grew up in it and have watched Paso Robles grow into a thriving, vibrant community – brought to you, in part, from grapes leaving the county. That’s how agricultural communities work. They provide products that cannot be grown everywhere. For Paso, winegrapes require the least amount of water for the types of crops that can grow here.
I do agree that all involved need to come to the table with slates clean, ready to compromise and listen. This is the only way we can all continue to enjoy what we have.
Matt aka Hoot says
Stasi, I totally agree and have a love for farmers too. The only issue is that if we support farm land at all costs, we will run out of water…then what? I understand the importance of agriculture, but this isn’t me dictating for or against them, this is mother nature. So what’s the answer?
If we got rid of all residential grass in our area we would still run into a water issue at some point. Do we put off the inevitable and kick the can? This is a desert and it always has been. So as much as I agree with farming and as much as I love farming…water will run out eventually no matter what because mor eis being used than what is being produced.
I am glad you touched on this, it is a very hot button topic! From the last article I read, homeowners use approximately 37% of the water supply, and wineries use around 43%…don’t quote me…it’s the last stats I have read on the issue. We have friends/homeowners who live where they depend on a well, and from what I have been told/read, when their wells run dry it can cost up to 20,000 to dig and hope to hit a water supply again. A house with no water is worthless, however, the growers and wineries do contribute to our economy and growth here. Natural resources need to be protected, and everyone needs to start making changes…homeowners and growers. There is no one size fits all here, but getting people educated about it is a start! 2 heads are better than 1, and 34,000 heads should certainly be able to come up with a reasonable solution for all. We need to start thinking as a group, this is our home, and we need to protect its resources. Thank you, Matt, this needs to be discussed!
Matt aka Hoot says
Kari, I totally agree with everything you said. I also know that the more heads in the cookie jar the more corrupt things tend to get. What is the answer? I don’t know. I think homeowners and growers need to change…but will we? Farmers bring money but when does money outweigh nature and when does nature outweigh money? If we’re thinking about our children and grandchildren we need to be smarter.
Residential is a smaller percentage of water use. I’m willing to pay more and I’m willing to let my grass turn brown…what are the growers willing to do?
Tough subject and I really do love our farmers. I understand the importance…but mother nature doesn’t care…we have the water we have. Cheers to ya!! 🙂
This issue has been foremost in my mind the last couple of good weeks, and like you, Matt, I am not 100% sure of the right path. However, I do have some strong opinions based on what I do know.
I’d like to preface my statements by saying that I am one of those lucky few who’s from “around here.” I’m second generation SLO County stock: born and raised in San Luis Obispo, now an adult living and working in Paso Robles. I tend to take umbrage with those who write missives about their ruined pastoral homes — bought in 1999, having moved here from a bigger city — and how they loathe the very agricultural industry that incited them to move here in the first place.
Of course, as Mark asserted above, I do have a “special interest,” my own stake in this debate. I’m a city water user and I often work with (but not for) the local wine industry. So A) I don’t have to be immediately concerned with a well drying out, and B) those vineyards butter my bread.
My take is that of course the water needs to be managed. Of course it’s incredibly concerning (not to mention sad) that people’s homes are becoming unlivable due to lack of water… but is that only agriculture’s fault? Agriculture in various forms has been the backbone of the Paso Robles economy for a hundred-plus years. Although the vineyard boom is relatively new (beginning in the late eighties), it’s still part of a long history of growing things in this area. WIth irrigation, I shouldn’t have to add.
Alongside a boom in a well-marketing “wine country,” Paso Robles has also experienced huge growth in economy and population. The water table is supporting (albeit barely, at this point) growth all-around. Something needs to be done, but I don’t think vilifying the vineyard owners and operators is that thing. Everyone is to blame for this, and a few people — because that’s who are operating these vineyards, people — shouldn’t be painted as evil because it’s convenient.
I’ve read a lot recently about growers taking more than “their fair share.” Well, I ask everyone, what’s fair? How are we to assign “fairness”? Should someone who has been farming grapes in Paso Robles for literally their entire life pay more, because someone who moved here from LA in 1997 has a dry well?
Based on what I’ve read thus far (and maybe I’m wrong, but this is what I’ve been gathering), the folks who are using acronyms like ‘PRAAGS’ are looking for a scapegoat. Things have gone horribly wrong and someone’s got to pay, seems like the general wisdom. I don’t buy it.
Matt aka Hoot says
Lindsay…some great points for sure. I in no way am villifying the growers although I know some people are. I don’t know what’s fair. At the end of the day is it residential? Is it the farmers? Is it the city and county government for not better regulating this?
I don’t know.
At the end of the day, if we are to preserve this amazing land we live on…everyone will have to suffer.
So what’s the end answer? Not sure. But as a homeowner within the city limits I am wiling to let my grass die and I am willing to pay more money for water. The thing is, I expect the growers to make cuts too.
You know, the most important thing is the Earth. The economy I could care less about. We need to protect our natural resources and we are not doing so.
I’m at a loss. Again, not sure what the answer is but I really really hope a voice of reason rises above.
Matt if you look at ag in the North County in 1977 there were 23,000 acres of irrigated land. Most in sugar beets and alfalfa, irrigated pasture and less that 3000 acres of grapes all on overhead irrigation. Of those crops even then grapes used the least water per acre. Now most of ag in the North County is vineyards that have been converted to drip or developed with drip. A drip irrigated vineyard uses less than a third of the water that we used with overhead vineyards. If you push the numbers that are real and not just ‘created” there is a strong case to be made that North County ag is using about the same or less than ag was in the seventies. We now have about 30,000 acres of grapes, and another 5,000 acres of irrigated crops, and with the vineyards using a third of what we did in the ’70s and so much of the other irirgated crops gone I really believe that the change in ag water consumption is very close to what it was 35 years ago. The big change in water use is the huge demand by people. You can not build 150 houses on 320 acres with with each house drilling a 200 to 250 foot well into the shallow aquifers and not expect so of the wells to go dry in a drought.
Matt aka Hoot says
Gary, I wonder what the fix is then. Is it no more houses being built or slowing down the development of new vineyards? I honestly don’t know. I do know that if we don’t do anything or if we don’t do enough we will all run out of water sooner than later. So is it a situation where we only stop housing development or vineyard development…or a combination? I have not sat in on enough of these meetings to know all the possibilities.
Matt the answer is we have gone thru 3 periods of dought like this in Paso since I’ve been here. Each time old and/or shallow wells failed. The water in the shallow aquifers is what Ernie Smith, and old time well driller in paso, called transient water. Very little of it and not able to regenerate fast enough when a drought occurs. We are still not over drafting the Paso aquifer, but very close. What has happened is the tremendous pressure put on the shallow aquifers by the huge number of shallow wells. Ernie did not even bother to slot our well casings until we we hit 200 feet because he said the water at those levels did not justify the cost. The water in the Paso basin is at 800’to 1500′. At that level there is a lot of water. When I built my house in the Estrella district I had Ernie drill to 800′ because I knew that droughts happen and if I wanted my house and proptery to have continous supply of water I didn’t want to take a chance on depending on the shallow aquifers. Deep wells cost are more, but you can write them off on your taxes and they increase your property value. You nerver lose money digging a deep well. I can show you 320 acres in the Estrella district that has water problems. On those 320 acres there are 150 houses each with a shallow well. They are completely surronded by vineyards on all sides. When those vineyards were put in there was not a single house on those 320 acres. I know because I installed those vineyards in the early 1970s. If you Google Earth, without really trying you can see a minimum of 28 swimming pools that are drawing water from the shallow aquifer on those 320 acres, and a whole lot of grass and pasture for horses??? Are these people taking water from the vineyards that surrond them and were there first? There is water in the Paso basin and this drought will end as they all do. In the mean time drill a deeper well. There is water there and you will recoupe the cost in the value of your home.
Matt aka Hoot says
Wow, great points, Gary. Did not know that. People say the wells are running dry but they never follow up with “but there is more water deeper”. It’s interesting. I suppose everyone has their political spin on things, and by political spin I mean what is in their best interest. It will be interesting to see what is decided. Hopefully these facts are being brought to the politicians attention, I’m sure it is.