Quake effects still rippling

One year later ranchers and farmers are discovering changes in the water supply



It’s been one year since the San Simeon earthquake shook the county, killing two people and damaging buildings, but many, especially farmers and ranchers, are seeing an unexpected manifestation of the quake. Those who are familiar with local creeks have noticed a change in water flow that they attribute to the San Simeon quake. The Dec. 22, 2003 quake struck at 11 a.m. and registered a magnitude of 6.5. There were about 50 aftershocks from the quake, which occurred at an especially shallow depth of five miles. Although the epicenter of the quake was in San Simeon, two people were killed in Paso Robles when a historic building collapsed.

Since the quake, increased water levels in several creeks have been reported. Bruce Gibson, an orange-farmer in Cayucos who has a background in geophysics, said he first started noticing hydrological changes this past summer.

“In our area the flows have mostly gone up,� he said. “The geology here is so complicated, so the effects are complicated.�

What Gibson means is that over time seismic activity has twisted and reconfigured the rock, which created various water pockets. Large seismic events can either break these water pockets free or seal them up.

“What’s significant on a human scale is insignificant on a geological scale,� Gibson said.

Bryan Bode, utilities director for the Cambria Community Services District (CCSD), also indicated that the Paso quake has transformed local water characteristics. As a result, he said, this year Cambria was able to draw much more water than it thought it could.

Bode, who has worked for the CCSD for 27 years, said that this year there has been “An incredible amount of water [compared] to all years previously.� Bode points out that some of the people who live up above Cambria have experienced the exact opposite, as their wells have dried up.

Cambria pulls most of its water out of San Simeon and Santa Rosa creeks. In 2000 Cambria installed a new pump in Santa Rosa Creek for the town’s water use. The same year, Cambria was able to pull out 52 acre-feet of water while also maintaining a minimum flow. One acre-foot can support three families’ water needs for a year. Last year Cambria pulled in 84 acre-feet and in 2002 they drew 82 acre-feet.

Since the quake, Cambria has been able to draw nearly twice the amount of any previous year, pulling out 158 acre-feet. Santa Rosa creek is “flowing better,� and “didn’t slow too much,� said Bode.�

The increased flows no doubt helped the town’s water shortage, said Bode, who described both creeks as “completely recharged.� The amount of rain this year was pretty average, too, he added, so the anecdotal evidence points to the quake as the reason for the increase in water.

Gibson said he didn’t know of anybody who was in dire straits from losing their water supply. Farmers and ranchers will talk for hours about how the earthquake has changed their water supplies, but “at the end of the day we’ve got to deal with what is,� he said.

What is for now, is more water.

Staff Writer John Peabody can be reached

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