PASO ROBLES, Calif. – Wine connoisseurs may be enjoying the latest Zinfandel or Syrah from the Paso Robles region, but residents are complaining the growing number of vineyards is straining the local water supply.
A dispute has been bubbling lately between residents and winemakers over the use of an ancient aquifer that covers nearly 800 square miles and is large enough to support annual demand.
However, the wine grape acreage has more than tripled in the past 15 years and some residents say the basin water is flowing freely into the vineyards. The water level has sunk 70 feet or more since 1997 in some parts due to persistent drought and agricultural and urban growth.
More than two-thirds of basin water usage is for farming, most of which are vineyards. California and Texas are the only two states that allow landowners unlimited access to groundwater.
"There's too many doctors and lawyers moving in here and putting in their Chateau Cashflow," Zan Overturf, owner of a Paso Robles plant nursery, told the Los Angeles Times.
Wine growers are backing a proposal to form a water district and acquire supplemental water from the California State Water Project.