When Californians talk about living or working “on the water,” it’s likely in reference to the state’s 840-mile coastline.

However, the infinite blue Pacific Ocean might as well be a desert to those who call the Central Coast home where fresh water is becoming as scarce as a flock of snow geese in the Sahara.

A trio of water purveyors from three areas of the coast: Monterey County, the Santa Maria Groundwater Basin and the city of Paso Robles, detailed legal and environmental issues resembling an octopus’s tentacles challenging their respective areas to at least maintain rapidly depleting water supplies.

Groundwater overdrafting and salt water intrusion exacerbated by urban and agricultural growth over the past three decades have reached well beyond taxing with such ideas as:

  • Towing Arctic icebergs to the coast to melt for fresh water.
  • Building cisterns for homeowners to catch drinking water supplies.
  • Collecting fog for water.

As far out as those may seem, water suppliers have come close to the bizarre by installing a large rubber bladder for a lake spillway to increase water capturing ability and using treated sewer water to grow vegetables, both desperate measures in anyone’s book. However, these are frantic times along the blue Pacific.

The problem is not new. It has just accelerated since the 1990s with rapid urban growth in all areas and agricultural growth in some areas.

Salt water intrusion taking away fresh groundwater supplies was first documented in 1930, Robert Johnson from the Monterey County Water Resources Agency told the Sustainable Ag Expo in Paso Robles, Calif. Governments started looking for solutions 65 years ago and are still working on it.

“Salt water intrusion has slowed over time. I think we are doing pretty well,” he said, but it still removes fresh groundwater water access from about 200 acres per year.

Johnson joined Keith Larson, water conservation manager for the City of Paso Robles, and Michael Winn, director of the Nipomo Community Services District, in detailing the water crisis facing the Central Coast from Santa Maria to Monterey to those at the expo, sponsored by the Central Coast Vineyard Team.

Agricultural and urban interests use about 600,000 acre feet of water annually in Monterey County with agriculture using 90 percent of that. There are 3,000 wells in the county; 1,900 are agricultural wells. However, Johnson said many of those wells are capped or otherwise not utilized.