Paso Robles: Wine versus Water
While El Niño this year brought ample rains to northern California, overall rainfall was less than originally predicted (see Alder’s recent report) and southern California saw far fewer winter storms. Of wine regions in the state, hardest hit by lack of rain has been Paso Robles. Paso’s challenges with weather are not insignificant. It has become one of the best-known wine regions of the Central Coast, as well as a leader in California’s Rhône movement. Most famously, the Perrin family of Château du Beaucastel has affirmed the value of Paso Robles by investing with the Haas family in the Tablas Creek project. The work Tablas Creek has done to import Rhône varieties and clones to their site in Paso’s Adelaida district has been of benefit to Rhône producers throughout the United States.
During California’s winter rainy season this year, northern storms failed to reach as far south as Paso Robles, and the few warmer storms from the south did not reach over the mountains separating Paso’s county of San Luis Obispo from its southern neighbor Santa Barbara County (see the brown hilltops in this picture of an East Paso vineyard). The Central Coast region received so little rain this winter, reservoirs are only 30% full. The reservoirs are primarily for the townships of San Luis Obispo such as Paso Robles, Templeton and Atascadero. Land within the county but outside town centres has to depend for water on residential and commercial wells in the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin.
Lack of rainfall these last several years has failed to replenish the Basin’s water level. Water issues in the area, however, are only partially due to the recent California drought. There has been a sizeable increase in overall water use from a significant rise in county residences as well as from the expansion of irrigated agriculture. This surge in demand for water has led to wells throughout the county being severely depleted. In the most affected areas, wells are down as much as 80 to 100 ft (24-30 m) from their original levels. As a result, small home-ranch owners (generally single-dwelling one-acre properties) face the possibility of losing homes they can no longer keep hydrated. Many have resorted to trucking in water. Even so, water use in the region continues to be unregulated although it is one of the very few in the state where well use is unmonitored and uncontrolled.
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