Debunking some common local water myths

August 26, 2013
Warren Frankel, M.D., M.S.

Dr. Warren Frankel


Deeper wells are not the problem, they are the solution to our North Coast water issues.

That’s my conclusion, based on a thorough search of existing scientific literature. I’ve identified a number of unfortunate incorrect concepts:

The water underlying the Central Coast is not a giant bathtub or swimming pool. And the word “basin” is a poor choice of wording to describe what’s down there.

Water in the various aquifers — or better, “strata” — are mostly not interconnected, separated by faults.

Deeper wells — 800 feet or more — do not affect the more superficial, 200-foot-level wells.

The Central Coast aquifer is not small; it is huge, and probably the largest in the state, comprising three to five separate strata.

An oft-used example of a specific water issue are the Jardine wells, each of which serves an acre of land from a depth of 200-275 feet. These wells compete with one another, and have nothing to do with 800-foot wells in the Huero Huero, San Juan, Shandon, or Atascadero aquifers.

These are scientific facts:

The huge Central Coast aquifer has many different strata, and those levels are affected by various natural phenomena.

Most of the water in those aquifers is deep.

Aquifers at the 180-250-foot levels are replenished by rainfall, and is currently in negative balance due to a drought. That is not affected by 800-foot wells, as water cannot flow upward.

Deeper 800-foot wells are not running dry, as they are not replenished by rainfall.

And the economy of the Central Coast is largely dependent on tourism, created by the wineries and vineyards.

There are solutions to the water situation.

First, agricultural wells should use deeper wells.

New developments of more than 20 homes should use one or two common deep wells (500 feet or deeper), and not individual wells. The common wells could be the property of homeowners’ associations or a local special water district.

Existing homes that must lower shallow wells can be provided with the opportunity for low-interest loans to lower or redo their wells. These solutions must be individualized based on the conditions of the various aquifers. One size does not fit all.

Also necessary are continuing conservation, sustainable agricultural policies, and supplemental supplies from Naciemiento and state water projects.

And finally, we must rely on scientific data, include opinions of all parties involved, and not rush into new “emergency” regulation just for the sake of doing something.

Warren Frankel, M.D., M.S., is a family practitioner in Templeton; owner of Sculpterra Winery; Frankel Vineyard; and founder of His Healing Hands, a local missionary organization.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

He’s just plain wrong. It serves his self interest to say this. Then he doesn’t feel guilty for his gross abuse of over watering when so many of his neighbors have no landscaping. I would not want a geologist treating me for my medical conditions. Dr. Frankle should not use his MD when touting his supposed facts. I trust ALL the other geologists facts, and wish that Drl Frankle did not muck up the waters with his ‘opinion’. I will not drink Sculptera wines.

I find it interesting that we had an extremely lengthy board of supervisor meeting tuesday discussing less facts and opinions than on an opinion piece in CCN, yet there are decisions being made on a county/state level with a 4/0 vote. Seems to me there are a lot more questions than answers, don’t you? I also favor the idea of common sense solutions vs. top down regulations, but I guess it’s allredy too late for that. At what point are individuals, businesses and agriculture able to work WITH government to SOLVE problems? Where is the forum for that? Does it have to get so bad that these things work themselves out by default? Thanks,Mike

Yes Mike, there was a time in 2009 when Mecham and the wineries were to work together to find solutions. Then things happened. The North County has been overwhelmed with new wineries/vineyards and now the global wine industry is moving in, buying as much property as they can, and planting grapes.

I wrote a lengthy response with many quotes which is too long for a comment, but it can be read here:

TO MODERATION: Everything I post here was written by me and WAS NOT copy/pasted from another site. I have removed all quotations from sources and instead put them in the pastebin link above. I hope that is satisfactory.


Dr. Frankel passed a short paper very similar to this to a patient of his who then passed it along to some other people, including myself. I decided to investigate Dr. Frankel’s sources and conclusions, and I wrote this up. I quoted from the very sources the Dr. Frankel claimed backed his position.

Dr. Frankel’s paper:

1. Basin is a geologic term. The Paso Robles Basin is classified as such because it is largely a collection of sediments.

2. Faults form the boundary for large sections of the perimeter of the Paso Robles Basin. The only section of the Paso Robles Basin itself that is divided by a fault is the Atascadero sub-basin which is found to the southwest of the Greater Paso Robles Basin. The rest of the Basin is considered to be hydrologically connected.

3. There are two main types of aquifers surrounding this discussion. The deeper Paso Robles Basin formation (up to 2500ft deep in some areas) and shallower, looser, alluvial formations that are scattered along the surface of the Paso Robles Basin, mostly along the creeks and rivers. The alluvium formations are generally no deeper than 100 feet.

4. A 200 foot well located in the Paso Robles Formation will be affected by a 800 foot well also located in the Paso Robles Formation. Evidence of this would be two wells, one shallow, one deep that are in close proximity and have the same water level altitude. This may not necessarily be the case if the shallow well was drawing from an alluvial aquifer. However, alluvial aquifers generally do not reach depths of 200 ft in the Paso Robles Basin.

5. While the Paso Robles Formation is large, the consequences of a drop in the water table may still be worth examining.

6. The HuerHuero, San Juan, And Shandon (Estrella River) aquifers are alluvial aquifers, and as such, do not go beyond 100 feet. An 800 foot well above these aquifers would be tapping the Paso Robles Formation below them. The Jardin Wells are also tapping the Paso Robles Formation at 200 feet. The Atascadero Aquifer is a more separate entity, being separated from the rest of the basin by the Rinconda fault. Wells in the Paso Robles Basin are hydrologically separate from wells in the Atascadero sub-basin, and as such have “nothing to do with each other”. It should be noted that the Atascadero sub-basin has it’s own alluvial aquifer above the separate formation below (the alienated piece of the Paso Robles formation severed by the fault).

7. The alluvial aquifers are largely replenished by rainfall and runoff from outlying regions and upper elevations into the streambeds. The Paso Robles formation is replenished by rainfall as well. It is also replenished by the overlying alluvial aquifers. 180-250 foot wells, however, are not located in alluvial aquifers, but the upper part of the Paso Robles Formation.

8. Water within the Paso Robles Formation at a depth of 800 feet is still hydrologically connected to water within the Paso Robles formation at 200 feet. Moreover, water can “go upward” in the sense that differences in elevation across the basin can mean water at a 800 foot deep (for example) well may be at a higher altitude (above mean sea level) than a shallow well where the surface is closer to sea level. This is how Artesian Wells may form.

9. An 800 foot well in the Paso Robles Formation, being hydrologically connected to the rest of the formation, will by necessity be partially replenished by rainfall. The question is also not “Are 800 foot wells running dry?” but is rather “Are water levels in 800 foot wells dropping?”


There’s a lot of name dropping going on here, so it’s easy to get confused. Dr. Frankel seemed to have fallen victim to this when he refers to the Huer Huero and San Juan Aquifers and says there are 800 foot wells in them, obviously not realizing they are shallow, alluvial aquifers. For those who may need visual representation of this (eg. Dr. Frankel), I can refer you these diagrams:

A cross section near Creston, showing the difference between the Alluvium and the lower Basin:

A map of Alluvial deposits:

This was a report on possible places for the State Water Project to recharge the basin. It delineates the larger Alluvium deposits (such as the Huer Huero and San Juan) in visual form starting on page 31:

Brief extracts of long in depth informative articles with a link address included are welcome here on CCN;

copy paste of same is not,

? or !

Go Doc! Ignore the haters and the uninformed. They’re jealous, and listening to their own propaganda. Agenda 21’rs for sure!

I’m not a “hater” and jealousy doesn’t come into play here. I’m hardly an Agenda 21 politically liberal person, either.

I greatly respect Dr. Frankel for his medical missionary service and if I were sick, I’d gladly see him for his medical expertise. In this situation, however, I disagree w/his assertions.

Next time I have a serious medical problem, I’m going to see a groundwater hydrologist…. I’m sure it will work out just fine.

If you follow Dr. Frankel’s argument to its conclusion, he is saying that there is plenty of water in the aquifer for everyone. This is what he has said on KPRL. Just drill deeper wells and keep pumping.

He has read the “scientific evidence” and disagrees and we should accept his non scientific opinion because, after all, he is “more informed” than all of the experts.

So, how does the deep groundwater get regenerated. Here is an opinion from a real expert: “Vineyards outside the Paso Robles groundwater basin are also feeling the squeeze. In the Adelaida area west of Paso, vineyard wells are using “ice age” water, deposited during Pleistocene times, according to Cal Poly Soil Science Professor Thomas Rice. “When you use it, it’s gone,” Rice said, adding that he knows of half a dozen wells in the area that have gone dry in the last couple of years”. New Times 2009.

But Dr. Frankel doesn’t care about recharging the aquifer or whether it goes dry in the future (he says it will last forever), just like he doesn’t care about his neighbors and the noise and dust generated by his Tasting Room and Event Center off Linne Road.

Dr. Rice is WRONG. Dr. Frankel, a more important doctor, and even more importantly a winery owner, and Debbie both say “a couple of good rainy years and everything’s fine”. Good enough for me.