First, I have to say that this problem has bubbled or maybe more appropriately gushed to the surface and if you live here in this great paradise now known as the world’s top Wine Region of the Year, you’ve probably heard more about than you care to admit. So have I.
Still, there it sits staring you right in the face. Paso Robles and the entire North County of San Luis Obispo have water issues that we can’t ignore. However, the problem is what to do?
Being honest, I have to admit, I’m not the guy who will come up with an answer here. What my concern is, the politics of this problem appear to be outweighing actual functional debate as to what we can do about the lack of water. Outside influences such as national news organizations either have no clue to what is going on or slant their views politically to aid a certain bias. Even local news outlets can’t always be trusted as they too have a political bent to their coverage of the problems. You will hear there is dialogue but then new groups are created because they didn’t have a voice. So just how much dialogue is there?
If you’re not from California, you must understand that a large part of this state is desert or desert-like (semi-arid). I’m originally from Southern California so I know that the Greater Los Angeles Area is a mostly semi-arid region that acquires most of their water from the Owens Valley east of the Sierra Nevada and also the Colorado River. In a much smaller sense, the situation is similar for Paso Robles and sources of water come from different areas.
Paso Robles sits on the backside of the California Coastal Range and by the time the storms work their way across these mountains, they’re wrung out and we end up receiving less rain than you would expect given our location just 20 miles from the Pacific Ocean. This past year, we received four inches of rain – that’s right, just four inches. The drought has hurt our ground water levels and ratcheted up the pressure to do something now before later.
Up until the last 40 years or so, drought wasn’t as big a problem as folks relied on ground water from wells to supply the needs of citizens whether in town or rural. However, the city has grown exponentially since the ‘70s while the farming or more accurately winemaking has exploded. That growth needs water but we are sorely lacking in its supply. It should be noted that grapes take less water than other traditional crops – for whatever that’s worth. And still, the ground water levels are dangerously low.
The county placed restrictions on water usage but farmers who supply their own water needs with wells are fighting for control of their water. Yesterday, lawsuits were filed against San Luis Obispo County for that exact claim. Many entities battling for restrictions were surprised by the lawsuits – so the question there is: Were they engaging in dialogue or weren’t they?
Said Cindy Steinbeck, who was among the plaintiffs of the lawsuits, and is part of Steinbeck Wines a seventh generation vineyard,
“I’m convinced that fighting for my rights is the right thing to do, and I believe that as our seven-generation family stands up for our rights we are fighting for all other landowners in the Paso Robles groundwater basin as well.”
Earth has shown over and over that it can fix itself when no one thinks it can. However, we must be stewards and not wasteful, drought or no drought. Supply and demand should be part of the regulator for what happens going forward. If water is too expensive, people will do with less or pay a premium for it.
Farms in this region like Steinbeck Wines have somewhat insulated and steadied this town from the vagaries of a Great Recession. Whether we like it or not, this is a company town in that how goes the wine industry, so goes our local economy.
Yes, Paso Robles has a water problem, nevertheless are rash rulings the answer? Again, I don’t have those answers but until a fair and equitable agreement can be reached by all parties, we endanger the reasons we all live in this little paradise on the Central Coast of California. What’s fair? That may be the $64 million question but regardless, we must be cognizant of and balance everyone’s needs.
Daryle W. Hier