GUEST COMMENTARY by DIANNE WASSENICH
and the SAN MARCOS RIVER FOUNDATION BOARD
Discussions in our community seem to always end up with people being labeled pro-growth or anti-growth which sets up a false choice. We don’t believe citizens have a choice solely between being a growth or no-growth advocate. We believe you can grow in the correct ways, and cities have a choice about how they grow and how their current residents are treated during the growth of the community. Ignoring the wishes of current residents is not what a healthy community does. Current residents have to wake up and realize what is happening, however. And with the Paso Robles annexation being considered at council this Tuesday, Sept. 21, there is no time like the present.
Paso Robles is one of three local developments planned for the recharge zone currently, while for many decades the community has given clear direction in their master plans that high density development was to be avoided on the recharge zone. This was to protect our drinking water and our river from being degraded by new development. Citizens worked for countless hours to put together these master plans to try to protect our water resources we are so blessed to have here.
The current majority bloc on council has voted again and again in ways that are directing growth onto the recharge zone, plus placing a majority on the Planning and Zoning Commission who have the interests of developers foremost in their minds. The citizens who live here have the right to object strongly. Cities place water and wastewater lines and roads in the areas they want to develop, annexing and offering these “entitlements”. Our city has many other locations to build in with adequate infrastructure already in place, but suddenly they are choosing the recharge zone and contributing zone, at great expense to taxpayers for new infrastructure. Current residents will pay for these decisions with higher taxes, degraded water quality and a river that will become unusable unless this policy of encouraging building on the recharge zone changes right now.
Citizens can make a difference — please remember that there would be a conference center above Spring Lake right now with a huge parking lot, pouring oil into Spring Lake, if citizens had not objected. We noticed that many of the same members of the community who are FOR these new developments on the recharge zone stood up at council meetings and begged for that conference center to be above Spring Lake. Please don’t forget this very recent history. In addition, SMRF recently helped prevent a landowner’s property above Spring Lake from being condemned by the city for a Lime Kiln entrance road for a subdivision of hundreds of homes and apartments and commercial buildings, by widely publicizing the fact that we’d hired an expert attorney to defend the landowner against this city abuse of their eminent domain power. (The landowner deserves the major credit for bravely standing up and refusing to accept condemnation, and so do all the citizens who wrote the Council to object.) Our point is that citizens can make a difference when they stand up and speak for intelligent growth in the right locations, and against bad decisions that harm current residents and their quality of life, drinking water, and river.
Paso Robles could have planned green open spaces along its creeks and ravines that would provide filtration and buffers for the runoff from the hundreds of homes and apartments they are building. Home buyers like green spaces next to their homes. Instead the developers are asking to put a golf course in those creeks and ravines where the use of fertilizers and chemicals will occur, plus the use of treated wastewater effluent for irrigation. These chemicals and pharmaceuticals from the wastewater will show up in the aquifer very quickly, since the golf course is located on the recharge zone, contributing zone and transition zone of the Edwards Aquifer. This will affect hundreds of private wells in the area, city wells, Crystal Clear wells, and the wells of the San Marcos National Fish Hatchery and Technology Center (the endangered species refugia on McCarty Lane.)
Many wells are located around Paso Robles because it sits on top of a trough or conduit of clean aquifer water between two major faults that run parallel to Hunter Road. This water flows rapidly from San Antonio and New Braunfels to San Marcos Springs. The conduit underground is almost like a canal of water between the two faults, in a place where the rock has dropped underground like a large, long block of stone. Many studies by the Edwards Aquifer Authority, found on their website, plus studies by the San Antonio Water System, have centered on this conduit of aquifer water. It is a valuable resource worth protecting, vital to the river.
In San Antonio, a golf course on the recharge zone was approved after years of battles over it, and the entire golf course had to be lined to prevent the chemicals from going into the aquifer. Treated wastewater effluent was banned on that golf course on the recharge zone. The public has the right to know what chemicals are being used and the poundage or tonnage, and the developers/golf course managers in San Antonio have to pay $100,000 per year to the city water system in order to cover all the aquifer testing that must be done for all the chemicals. San Marcos deserves no less. This is drinking water from wells which would be affected, which have no treatment plants on them. People drink straight from many of these wells. There have been multiple problems in other parts of the aquifer where sewer lines on the recharge zone have leaked, or the Air Force contaminated the aquifer, all pointing to the fact that it is almost impossible to clean up pollution once it is in there. And people have been sickened by these incidents. Don’t let this happen here.
The city touts the offer by Paso Robles to use potable or drinking water (instead of reclaimed wastewater) on a tiny corner of the golf course because that is the recharge zone, as solving the problem. That’s a good first step but the problem is far from solved, and the current residents are the ones who will suffer when their wells and the river are polluted. The contributing and transition zones are also very vulnerable to pollution, as any aquifer expert can confirm. We also must make clear: even if the golf course is fully lined, the pollutants will run along the ravines and land so that they flow over the borders of the Paso Robles property, and some of the pollutants will then infiltrate the recharge zone on other people’s property. Retaining ponds that hold small rainfall events will not hold all the rainfall, so the chemicals caught in the ponds will be saved in the sediment and washed over to other people’s property when bigger rains happen.
Two local scientists who are long time residents and trusted aquifer experts expressed concern about this golf course being located over the aquifer: Dr. Glenn Longley of the EARDC and Dr. Tom Brandt of the federal facility on McCarty Lane. Dr. Longley has agreed with SMRF that the contributing zones and transition zones, as well as the recharge zone, are not suitable places for the golf course nor irrigation with wastewater. Tom Brandt stood up at the very first P&Z meeting about Paso Robles months ago and told of his concern about the potential pollution of the federal facility’s wells which provide water for the captive propagation of aquatic endangered species. Those wells are very near the city wells on McCarty Lane, adjoining Paso Robles. It is very unusual for these scientists to speak out publicly about a project, so we hope the council will listen to their concerns, and ALSO to the many citizens who have addressed council or emailed them by writing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Board of the San Marcos River Foundation
and Dianne Wassenich, Program Director, SMRF