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New Times / Commentary

The following article was posted on July 24th, 2013, in the New Times - Volume 27, Issue 52 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from New Times [newtimesslo.com] - Volume 27, Issue 52

We can't wait for water

Help us address Paso Robles' failing water supply--now

BY ELAINE HAGEN

I live in rural Paso Robles, on a well that’s not dry. Yet. As our groundwater basin dries up, many of our neighbors have run dry, lowered their pumps, or drilled a new well ($20,000 to $30,000; no guarantee of hitting water).

The water levels are severely declining—by some accounts more than 100 feet in 10 years. That’s not sustainable. It’s affected too many areas. They’re not hotspots. Or pockets. Or old wells. Or shallow wells.

It’s not a political matter. Wells don’t care if you’re a tree-hugging environmentalist, Republican, Democrat, or Tea-Party; wells are running dry. Without change, they will. There’s more than 6,300 parcels using wells, affecting 20,000 to 30,000 people.

You use city water? Our deteriorating aquifer affects us all. Increased water bills. Increased food prices. Plunging property prices and fleeing residents decrease your tax base. My backyard doesn’t draw the almighty tourist dollars, but I pay taxes, fund scholarships, volunteer. We’ve raised three children here. We support local businesses. If we go, they go. Plus, we country folks, we’re nice people. You’d miss us.

Several of our numerous concerns:

• We love our house. It’s supposedly our forever house. Without water, it’s worthless. We couldn’t live there, or sell; who’d buy it?

• When—not if—fire breaks out, if wells are dry, how will firefighters battle the blaze?

• Property values drop as buyers steer away from dry areas.

I’m asked, “Are you anti-vineyard?” Nope. I’m against anyone using more than their fair share. Rural landowners use 13 percent of the water. Irrigated ag uses 67 percent. Instead of reducing water use, there’s a frantic rush to plant 6,000 more winegrape acres.

At a recent Tuesday meeting (attended by more than 80 people), my husband Matt said, “We’re fighting groups with lots of political clout, money, and influence. The only way to counter that is with a larger group of informed, united people.”

Many rural landowners have joined together; please visit PROWaterequity.org to see your neighbors’ well stories and potential solutions to the groundwater crisis. Share yours. Join.

Some folks are selling, getting out while their property’s still marketable. I understand, but there’s nowhere I’d rather live. So we’ll work on solutions. There must be ways of sharing water. First, decrease demand.

Another group made up of agriculturalists—primarily vineyard/large land owners—wants to create a water district, but they propose voting be decided by the largest, highest-valued property landowners. So the land barons rule? That’s hardly fair. Our two-acre vote’s drowned out. Their website, PRAAGS.org, says they’re using “best management practices” to conserve. If they are, it’s not working well enough. They intend to “procure supplemental water.” Importing water? That’s not sustainable. Not cheap. Who’s paying?

Questions we’re asked: Can’t you just drill deeper? Answers: We might not hit water; it’s very expensive; there’s a finite supply of water. We’re already 500 feet deep. Can’t you just truck in water? That one’s really irritating. It’s a Marie Antoinette answer: “Let them eat cake.”

We’ve met too many people terrified of being waterless. Homeless. Discouraged, disheartened, dispirited, disgusted people. Dead landscapes? That’s the least of it. Families hauling water for more than a year because they’re without the requisite thousands for re-drilling. Running hoses from neighbors. Wet wipe baths. “Mellow yellow” toilets. Is this any way to live?

How you can you help?

• Write/e-mail/call all county supervisors. Apparently they’ve not heard enough people: Support rural landowners.

• Sign our petition imploring immediate action: PROWaterequity.org.

• Got well problems? Call the county: 781-5252.

• Get a saveourwells bumper sticker for your car, business, or neighborhood mailbox.

• Volunteer. We’re all local volunteers. Help share information.

• Donate to our legal fund. We’ve retained legal counsel. Water law’s expensive.

• Be host to a meeting. We’re holding meetings over all the affected areas. We’ll continue until we’re fairly sharing the water.

• Attend the Aug. 6 supervisor meeting. Wear blue.

We can wait no longer. The supervisors must hear: Save our wells. I want to hear from you at saveourwells@att.net.

 

Elaine Hagen has lived in Paso Robles since 1999. She’d like to stay. Send comments to the executive editor at rmiller@newtimesslo.com.