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Private well data needed for Adelaida groundwater study 

For years, residents of the Adelaida region near Paso Robles have asked for help protecting their fragile water supply. Now, officials with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) are asking the community for its help to accomplish that.

As part of a five-year study of the relatively unknown groundwater area west of Highway 101 between Paso and Atascadero—where irrigated vineyards have proliferated in recent years—the USGS is setting out to build a new groundwater monitoring network of about 30 wells.

click to enlarge UNDER STUDY A U.S. Geological Survey study seeks to better understand the groundwater dynamics in the Adelaida area. - MAP COURTESY OF THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY
  • Map Courtesy Of The U.S. Geological Survey
  • UNDER STUDY A U.S. Geological Survey study seeks to better understand the groundwater dynamics in the Adelaida area.

But it needs private landowners' help to do it.

"Most of the land out there is privately owned—we're asking for participation from more landowners," said Geoff Cromwell, a geologist with the USGS and a staff member on the study. "What we plan to do is to collect, over a period of two years, quarterly groundwater level measurements from selected wells."

Cromwell, alongside the Upper Salinas-Las Tablas Resource Conservation District, are hosting a community meeting on April 25 to share more with the public about the USGS study and its next steps. The meeting is slated for 4 p.m. in the Polin community room of the Atascadero Library.

An initial two-year phase of the study, which began in 2020, involved compiling existing data about Adelaida groundwater and some preliminary outreach to the community (which got severely hampered by COVID-19, Cromwell said). That phase had one main conclusion.

"In short, there's not a lot of publicly available data," Cromwell said. "[Adelaida groundwater] has not been extensively studied like the Paso Robles basin next door. Ultimately, there still is not a lot that is known. We know there's some thousands of wells that are there."

Cromwell said that the USGS is looking to public entities, like fire stations, first to gather well data, but it will ultimately need landowners to volunteer their wells for study in order to get a meaningful set of data points. "We'll choose those wells based on depth and geology," he said, "to try to measure different parts of the aquifer system and try to determine if different parts are connected both spatially and then also vertically as well. Are the shallow wells connected to the deep wells?"

The USGS wants to pair that well data with data retrieved from a recent airborne mapping study of the area done by helicopter to gain a better overall understanding of Adelaida groundwater conditions. There are also plans to install a streamgage in the Paso Robles Creek to monitor surface flows.

The project, funded by the SLO County Flood Control District, originally came in response to concerns expressed in the Adelaida community about the area's groundwater supply, and how a surge in commercial agriculture has impacted it.

A historically dry-farmed region, Adelaida has an aquifer that's complex due to its uneven terrain and geology. Devin Best, executive director of the Upper Salinas-Las Tablas Resource Conservation District, said that the USGS study is critical given the wine industry's growing presence there. But there's still a long ways to go.

"It's more challenging to figure out where the interconnectivity of groundwater is—you could be at 50 feet [belowground] in one spot and 150 feet in another spot, and it's technically the same groundwater," Best said. "It's going to take us a while to figure out what is going on in that area." Δ

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