Mecham views water basin with new eyes
August 20, 2013
By DANIEL BLACKBURN
A North County supervisor said a new county-produced map showing Paso Robles’ incredibly shrinking groundwater basin was a revelation to him and has impacted the way he looks at the issues.
“I didn’t expect to see what I was seeing,” First District Supervisor Frank Mecham told CalCoastNews. “It’s got my thinking going in a different direction, for the most part.”
County leaders have been examining a variety of options to address an accelerating draw-down of the water table, one of which is a controversial emergency ordinance to sharply stem use.
Supervisors will consider this option Aug. 27, when a proposal will be up for a vote. To pass, an emergency ordinance requires a four-fifths vote, meaning the current board — following the death of Fourth District Supervisor Paul Teixeira June 26 — will need to unanimously agree in order for the temporary measure to take effect.
It has been known for a decade that new development, primarily of vineyards and other agriculture, was taking a greater toll on the underground basin than ever before. Since 1997, according to county estimates, the basin’s level has fallen at least 70 feet, maybe as much as 100 feet in some areas.
But until the wells of some influential ranchers and residents in outlying areas began pumping sand in recent months, the potential problem was politically easy to ignore.
Now, neighbors, friends, large and small business entities are divided by the pending water crisis, and by proposed fixes.
Mecham has been publicly cautious about supporting an emergency ordinance, and recently asked county staff for more information.
“I asked to see a current map, because I wanted to see if there was ‘creep’ (declining levels in the basin) between 2009 and now,” he said. “That was much bigger and much broader than I thought it would be. I thought it would be bigger in terms of the ‘red zone’, but I didn’t expect to see what I was seeing.”
The ‘red zone’ is a deeper part of the basin underlying much of Paso Robles north to Bradley where most of the pumping activity over the past few years has been occurring.
Mecham said he thinks “all agree there is a problem. I knew there was a problem but I didn’t know the extent of the problem. Now there’s much more data, which will help to put (any decision) on a firm footing. I wouldn’t say I was surprised by (the basin overdraft’s) broad expansion, but I didn’t expect to see this. I thought there would be a little, but not near as much” as the new map shows.
As mayor of Paso Robles in 2005, Mecham signed an agreement with area ranchers regarding water supplies.
“I am concerned that it might affect that agreement if any emergency ordinance were to cover the entire area” over the basin, he said.
Update, By request.