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Connecting the (H20) dots

Is this Paso Robles? Or Chinatown?



In order for the deliberately confused masses to even begin to understand the current water controversy in the inaccurately named “Paso Robles Water Basin,” New Times’ “Split Screen” (or KCBX’s Take Two) might first need to re-view the classic Academy Award-winning movie Chinatown (selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry for films that are “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”). Maybe the Fremont or Palm can screen it again soon as a public service.

Here is a key excerpt:

Cross (John Huston): You may think you know what you’re dealing with, but believe me, you don’t. [Gittes smiles] Why is that funny?

Gittes (Jack Nicholson): It’s what the district attorney used to tell me in Chinatown.

Here’s the nexus: The SLO public—pun intended, as with the younger naive Gittes, and apparently our county supervisors—is largely ignorant about the real battle being waged here and now. This is all about controlling (read: “nationalizing = corporatizing”) this massive aquifer for the ultimate benefit of large out-of-area corporations and massive real estate development interests.

The Chinatown story was based on the real battle that William Mulholland waged (search California Water Wars) to gain control of all water rights in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley and well beyond for the city of Los Angeles, supposedly in the name of saving and helping agriculture but actually in service of massive real estate development interests. Once builders and subdividers were given a reliable connection to imported water, farmers were forced out at pennies on the dollar by those same development interests, who then systematically paved over that valley. Since then, “state water projects” have similarly and systematically usurped constitutional riparian (water) rights, wiped out farmers, and paved over farm lands throughout California.

Welcome to Paso Robles 2013. While rabid, eco-conned liberals from outside the basin demand this moratorium with few real facts to support their arguments, wealthy right-wing land owners from within the basin with “vested” water rights smile privately as government grants them a de facto (albeit supposedly temporary) monopoly on both grapes and water use. A very few anecdotal distressed parcel owners (“Save Our Wells!”) are trotted out to complain that they have had to deepen their old, shallow wells, then politicians assert the pretense that those folks had to import unsanitary water just to survive! Massive for-profit water corporations from outside the county continue buying up water rights and land, positioning themselves for the ultimate aquifer takeover. Never mind that thousands and thousands of parcels have no water problems whatsoever, that the “urgent” crossover point (from sustainable yield to non-sustainable water use) is six to 12 years into the future, that this water basin’s oft-quoted “urgent” “fact” is based only upon terribly old and limited data, and that the county government has even refused to capture “well report” data from every rural real estate sale (which would essentially provide hundreds of free data points each year from across the county—data that would surely show that it is the North County cities and CSDs, not the grape growers, that are the abusers of this limited resource).

The real facts are: (1) North County has lots and lots of water (it’s just a bit deeper than it was 50 years ago), and (2) a single household uses 1.0 to 1.2 acre-feet of water per year, the same usage as a typically conservative and efficient vineyard owner uses to water an acre of grapes, and the typical amount of rain falling on North County. But if residential households are built eight to 24 units per acre, this means that city households consume eight to 24 times more water per acre than a vineyard owner consumes. Vineyards and wineries use less water and create jobs, while households need (but do not create) jobs and use far more water.

Let me make the main argument crystal clear: Under the California Constitution, I have the right as a rural and agricultural land owner to drill for and use my fair share of the water under my land. If you allow the county (as an arm of the state) to take my water rights away with this moratorium, you are naively supporting overt fascism (as Mussolini defined it, “a merger of state and corporate interests”). I can no longer plant and grow my own grapes to support my small family winery in which I have invested more than $1 million during 20 years of planning and 10 years of execution (having received no income at all from my winery for the past seven years as I struggle to grow this local business). Most likely, due to this moratorium, I will be put out of business quite soon because I will not be able to buy grapes (since the supply is now frozen in the face of increasing demand), and I now cannot plant my grapes either. I am also no longer allowed to build a second home on my own land for my extended family as I had always planned (even though my fair share is 20 acre-feet per year under my 20 acres, although I use only 1 acre-foot per year). Thus, my agricultural and rural land has been rendered largely valueless, and my only remaining land “right” seems to be payment of property taxes!

The father raped his daughter and thereby conceived something more horrifying than a bastard child. Farmers were cheated, governments corrupted, innocents murdered, greedy and powerful men enriched, the citizenry fooled again—but you are advised to be silent and turn a blind eye because “forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown.”


Dean DiSandro of Rockin’ R Winery lives in Paso Robles. Send comments to the executive editor at rmiller@newtimesslo.com.

-- Dean DiSandro - Paso Robles

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