With any luck and a ton of teamwork, Paso Robles won’t run dry any time soon.
The City Council voted unanimously May 1 to adopt the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin Management Plan, which focuses on conservation education and outreach programs, improved measurement techniques for better computer models, and assessing potential supplemental water supplies. The county Board of Supervisors adopted the same plan in March to address the North County’s unincorporated areas.
With the county’s fastest growing population and new wineries popping up left and right, the demand for water in Paso Robles is about to surpass the basin’s supply. Since 1997, water levels have dropped five to six feet per year, drawing down wells by up to 70 feet in some areas.
A first draft of the plan went before the City Council last August, but concerns raised by the Paso Wine Alliance prevented it from moving forward.
Lisa Bodrogi, the alliance’s government affairs coordinator and a member of the steering committee, told New Times their main concern was that plans were being developed based on old and incomplete information.
“We asked a simple question,” Bodrogi said. “How do we really know what it would take and how long it would take to stabilize the basin’s supply?”
The county periodically measures water levels in 159 wells in the basin, but there were big gaps between areas. Larry Werner, the steering committee’s chairman, said they combed through parcel information at the County Assessor’s Office, searching for landowners who might voluntarily allow their wells to be measured. They contacted 170 people, and 30 agreed—on the condition that water flow would not be measured. Also, data on well levels would be pooled with the others and not tracked by individual parcels.
“Information is critical for something like this,” Councilman John Hamon said.
Usage data collected by Fugro, a consultant on natural resource allocation, shows that water demand since 1981 has doubled among urban residents, tripled among the rural homeowners, and actually decreased in the agricultural sector, though farmers still use 67 percent of the area’s water.
“We can still achieve a balance,” Werner said, “but it’s not going to happen overnight.”