SLO Water Politics vs. The Geopolitics of Food and Water`

August 26, 2013
Alex Alexiev

Alex Alexiev

OPINION by ALEX ALEXIEV

On Aug. 27, SLO county supervisors Bruce Gibson and Adam Hill will try to push through an “emergency” ordinance to deal with the purported ground water depletion in the Paso Robles water basin. `According to existing statutes, to be able to pass such an urgency ordinance, its proponents have to prove the existence of a “current and immediate threat to the public health, safety or welfare.” Neither Gibson, nor Hill nor anybody else can prove such a threat at this point because we simply do not know how many wells have run dry. The county goes around this inconvenience by lying in claiming that the emergency is caused by the “sudden, unexpected failure of a large number of residential wells.” Yet of the many thousands of residential wells in the basin, the board has heard testimony of only 8 going dry and another 8 whose pumps had to be lowered. Hardly “a large number.” Nor are the documented well failures “sudden, unexpected.” We’re in the midst of a serious drought and though most of our aquifers are replenishable, it takes rain and/or snowpack to replenish them and we’ve had very little of either one for two years.

One would think that if the Gibson and Hill were really concerned about the water problem they would have ordered an empirical study of the problem an economic impact study of the ordinance and propose both short and long-term solutions. They have done none of that. The reason for that is because the water problems in North County are of no interest to them. What they want to do is use this ‘crisis’ to push their far left, anti-business and anti-property rights agenda, which they have been unable to achieve through normal legislative means. And make no mistake about it, the proposed ordinance is a direct, frontal assault on the most productive sectors of our North County economy; agriculture, the wine industry, the closely related tourist industry and the barely recovering real estate business. If implemented, the ordinance as it now stands will stop any further development in its tracks without doing much if anything to alleviate water shortages because the entire urban population is excluded. This is a cynical political ploy that must be exposed and defeated.

It is ironic that this assault on our most productive industries happens at the exact time when a tremendous geopolitical shift is taking place around the world and food is emerging as the strategic commodity of the future replacing oil and gas. And food production is an area in which the United States and California have a potential second to none. What is making food and therefore water, a premium commodity has nothing to do with the prattling of environmental extremists about global warming or expanding populations and everything to do with the success of the free enterprise system wherever it is allowed to function.

To put it simply, the tremendous economic performance over the past two decades have created a 200 million strong middle class in China and 50 million in India. And more is to come, the World Bank expects China to add another 300 million to the middle class by 2020 and India another 150 million in the same time frame. And the first thing middle class people do is they start to eat meat. China consumed 10 million tons of meat in 1980 vs 71 million tons today, twice the current U.S. consumption, soon to become three times larger. Unfortunately, for these booming countries, God has played a cruel joke on them and undersupplied them with water. China has 20% of the world’s population but only 6% of its water resources. India has 16% of the population but 4% of the water and the Arabs make 5% but have just 1% of the water. The result is critical water shortage, drying aquifers, desertification and conditions similar to our Dust Bowl in the 1930s. China alone is said to have lost 24,000 villages to the advancing Gobi Desert, while the World Bank is on record predicting that most major Indian cities will run dry by 2020.

Another highly predictable result is booming imports from countries that do not have water problems like America, Canada, Brazil and perhaps, sub-Saharan Africa before long. China is already the biggest importer of food in the world and the trend could only accelerate. The opportunities that this irreversible trend portends for our agriculture and food production are limitless, unless, of course, we allow Ludites like Messrs. Gibson and Hill to implement their destructive agenda. In just one example, the wine industry is one that the proposed ordinance will seriously damage or worse. Chinese traditionally do not drink wine, but their middle class does. In the four years between 2008 and 2012 China’s wine imports grew by 85%, yet their wine consumption is still only 2 bottles per person. What will happen when there are 300 million more wine-guzzling Chinese by 2020 is not difficult to predict. Our county stands a good chance to grab a major chunk of it.

None of this is to say that we should not think of both short and long-range solutions to our water problems. It maybe that there’s nothing three years of above average rain cannot solve. But we couldn’t count on that and prudent leaders should be thinking of long-term palliatives. I have heard neither Gibson nor Hill talk about the exciting new desalination technologies being discussed currently. Lockheed Martin has come up with a fabulous new material called graphene that provides superior filtration at 1% of the energy cost of the traditional reverse osmosis. The company has said that they’ll have a working prototype by the end of this year and start commercializing it in a year or two. Then there is Canada, which with 0.5% of the world population has 7% of the water resources. Isn’t it time we look seriously at something that has been discussed for decades.

I believe that there is nothing American ingenuity and the free market system cannot solve if allowed. It was only half a dozen years ago that the prophets of doom and gloom were telling us that we’ll all die or become paupers because of the dominant nonsense of the time about peak oil and gas. Today, we’re the largest producer of natural gas in the world and soon will be #1 in oil as well.


Loading...
FineWine

This guy has it right. Many of the comments on this board just do not understand economics. Truly this is a failure of our government schools. This is why this country is trillions in debt with no hope of ever paying it off because we keep electing people like Hill and Gibson, and even Obama for that matter. If this ordinance is passed, you better sale now while you still can. Wine is our only industry and it drives everything else. Without jobs the area becomes poor extremely fast. If there is a problem with water it can be fixed without destroying the economy and our only industry. Passing this ordinance is like putting Al Gore in charge of fixing global warming. It will be an extreme over reaction to a problem that is not understood and may not even be a problem.


OnTheOtherHand

Although there are some valid points in his position, I disagree that he has it “right.” Wine may currently be our biggest industry but it hasn’t always been so and doesn’t necessarily need to be.


The trillions in national debt are not due to only the liberals and Democrats. Unfunded mandates are certainly a big part of it but the biggest unfunded mandates are the two most recent wars which were started by neo-Con Republicans and are truly bipartisan. Pork spending (including subsidies, bailouts and other corporate welfare) is also bipartisan.


As for economic ignorance, while educational failures play a role (and, again, both parties contribute — although in different ways), I think that the ignorance is semi-intentional in many cases as people tend to let wishful thinking and short-term desires overrule realities that they were probably taught earlier in life. If this was not true, political campaigns would need to rely on mass advertising of emotionally laden ads to succeed.


Finally, while the consequences of restrictions to the wine industry will have negative economic impacts locally, there is no reason to believe that they won’t be necessary in the long run. There is no guarantee that the current drought will end anytime soon. Climate change — no matter what causes it — does occur and civilizations have to adapt. Enacting emergency regulations now will make that adaptation less traumatic down the line if that is what is happening. It is like insurance in the that sense. It may have a cost upfront but it will greatly reduce the costs associated with a future bigger disaster if that should occur.


You may want to do without that upfront cost and gamble on future weather patterns being more favorable but the gamble affects everyone else living here. They have a right to say no to your risk assessment because, morally, ground water is a community resource. (Yes, I am aware that legally that concept is highly debatable.)


FineWine

You downplay the economic consequences as if they do not effect people. People will lose there jobs, homes, and quality of life. You maybe ok with that but I am not. There are many ways to obtain water not just weather patterns, but weather is something the human race has gambles on every day of our lives. We know from history we will get rain and lot of it at times.


MaryMalone

If you are involved in employment that is destroying the Paso GW basin, then you should be asking yourself “Why am I working for an industry that is destroying the Paso GW basin?”


And, no, the area that feeds the Paso GW basin does not historically get anywhere enough precipitation to make up for the gluttonous use of water by the vineyards.


FineWine

It’s funny how everyone is now a geologist and an expert on water. We know most have no idea about economics.. You Mary do not own the water and have no basis except your own greed to say you do. Water issues are can be solved what these people are arguing for control. They want your property rights and they will use water, global warming, whatever they have to, in order to take them.


Citizen

FineWine.


There is no way to start solving the aquifer problem without an urgency ordinance. Back in 2009, Mecham and the wine industry resolved to solve the water problem through cooperation. That might have worked except that they did not expect the run on new wineries and vineyards going way beyond the aquifer capacity.


I guess your idea of solving the water problem is just to let the global companies use all the water they want because it’s good for our economy. I personally don’t see that the good out weighs the bad that the wine industry has wrought. I personally am not interested in supporting the wedding planners and singers and others trying to make a part time job into a career.

I’m not interested in bringing more illegals in to pick grapes. Yes, there are some jobs created, but the downside of this heavily subsidized (local, state, and federal governments) industry controlled by the leftist elites (Pelosi, Gallo, Feinstein, the Congressional Wine Caucus) is that they are using up the state’s water supply and are not producing a real food–just wine.


BeenThereDoneThat

I love his argument. Site the fact that there are better Desal solutions out there but OH YEA they are still in the testing phase. About a year or two. Yea and lets not forget about the regulations they will probably encounter as they go also. I say if on line in five you would be doing well. Distract and avoid. That is all you wine types keep doing. Very common debate tactic when your argument is WEAK at best.


All you wine owners out there say you are willing to look into this. Then when do we start. Now? Next year? Year after that? The time to start discussing a PROBLEM is BEFORE it becomes a BIG PROBLEM as things will take time. We are at that stage. Time to start discussions. DEAL WITH IT!!!


MaryMalone

The “wine owners” will be willing to have someone seriously deal with the problem when the the wine owners are all packed up and moving on to the next new winery they will build, in a new area, because they have done such destruction to the environment (not just the GW basin, either…don’t even get me started talking about the damage to the soil they are doing) that they can no longer make big profits from the Paso region.


need water

Opinion, yes, well, you know what they say about opinions…


debbieisout

Alex: I think you have been drinking too much wine, that’s a of bunch of garbage coming out mouth!


taxpayer

Question: Exactly what effect will the passage of an emergency measure have on the County’s collection of property taxes? Will the appraisal of land go up or down? How much will the County lose or gain? How many jobs will be lost or gained? What’s the best way to go about approaching this problem? I’ve always found that emergency ordinances, passed without knowing all the facts, have caused many problems that weren’t contemplated at the time of passage. Everyone knows there’s a problem but, really, what is the best way to fix it. Also, how much water will the Nacimiento pipeline add to the Paso Robles water supply and what effect will that have on sustainability? I’m just asking.


oldradiostuff

Question: Exactly what effect will the failure of private water wells across the north county have on the County’s collection of property taxes? Will the appraisal of land go up or down? How much will the County lose or gain? How many jobs will be lost or gained? What’s the best way to go about approaching this problem? I’ve always found that the failure of our political leaders to address a problem, due to pressure from their special interest donors, results in the necessity of an emergency ordinance after the damage has been done. Everyone knows there’s a problem but, really, what is the best way to profit from it?


See how that works?


“Socialize the risk, privatize the profits” – the mantra of the socialist winery and vineyard owners from north county. They created the problem, they need to pay to solve THEIR problem that they are trying to pass off on to the rest of us.


oldradiostuff

Yet another toadie trying to equate wine with food and agriculture. Wine isn’t food, it is a recreational luxury item, not an agricultural commodity.


Read this from the article, ” China has 20% of the world’s population but only 6% of its water resources. India has 16% of the population but 4% of the water and the Arabs make 5% but have just 1% of the water.” If these countries came over, purchased property directly, and began pumping our water and shipping it back home, we would put a stop to it immediately. This is a surreptitious method of shipping our water out disguised as wine, and the wineries are selling us out for their quick buck.


Alexiev says, ” I have heard neither Gibson nor Hill talk about the exciting new desalination technologies being discussed currently. Lockheed Martin has come up with a fabulous new material called graphene that provides superior filtration at 1% of the energy cost of the traditional reverse osmosis. The company has said that they’ll have a working prototype by the end of this year and start commercializing it in a year or two. ” – That’s great. Just have your bootstrappy, entrepreneurial winery owners purchase this technology, pump seawater over to their wineries for desalination, and their problem would be solved.


Of course this won’t happen. Alexiev and the socialist winery owners want all of us to foot the bill for their irresponsible management practices. Socialize the risk, privatize the profits – the mantra of the new world order where the rich get richer and to hell with the rest of us.


MaryMalone

The Paso groundwater basin water is being used at a vastly unsustainable rate. This puts all public interests–not just the spoiled, greedy wineries–at risk for loss of the resource without which we cannot live: water.


The precipitous rate at which the GW levels have dropped walk in lock-step with the precipitous rate with which the county has allowed mega-winery after mega-winery be shoved into the area that the Paso GW basin serves.


This is an unsustainable land-use practice, benefiting the gluttonous few at the expense of the rest of the public who also has rights to groundwater sources.


The wineries are pirating our groundwater resources, turning them into wine, and then selling them to Asia where, ironically, it is difficult to find a GW basin of any size which is not polluted, some beyond redemption.


If the wineries are so set on serving their Asian masters, by sending our precious resource–water–to Asia, bespoiling and compromising the Paso GW basin in the meantime–then the winery owners and staff can just freaking move to Asia.


It will save transportation costs, and I am sure the wineries could find easily bought-off officials to help them circumvent safe-yield policies.


Al

“Then there is Canada, which with 0.5% of the world population has 7% of the water resources.”


More Keystone pipelines?


pasoponders

I find myself shaking my head when I read this. India, China, and the Middle East all looking ahead to a future without water. Many countries will need ever increasing food imports. How will wine from Paso Robles help? To paraphrase Marie Antionette – “Let them drink wine”?


The issue of the Paso Robles groundwater basin overdraft seems to be similar the problems in Asia where, as you state, “The result is critical water shortage, drying aquifers, desertification and conditions similar to our Dust Bowl in the 1930s.” How then can it not be reasonable to take a “time-out” and make an educated decision as to how we will prevent further loss of groundwater resources and meet the needs of all the residents and businesses in the North County?


In many respects your opinion piece supports the emergency ordinance you so critically condemn.