With the hum of heavy drilling machinery in the background, elected officials from San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties Wednesday celebrated the beginning of construction of a water project that will help stabilize the depleted Nipomo groundwater basin.
The Nipomo Community Services District has begun construction of a $17.5 million pipeline under the Santa Maria River that will eventually bring 3,000 acre-feet of water a year to the Nipomo Mesa for the next 70 years.
Thats nearly a billion gallons of water a year, said Michael LeBrun, district general manager. Thats a lifeline to the area.
Work crews are busy drilling a tunnel at North Blosser Road in Santa Maria that will accommodate 2,700 feet of water pipe. The river crossing is the most technically complex component in the 2-mile-long pipeline that will connect the Nipomo CSD to the city of Santa Maria.
Later phases of the project are the construction of a pump station and laying segments of pipe to connect the river crossing to Santa Maria and the Mesa. The pipeline is scheduled to begin delivering water to the Mesa in May 2015.
Its purpose is to stop over-pumping from the Nipomo groundwater basin, which is at its lowest level since records were first kept in 1975 and is experiencing saltwater intrusion.
Three thousand acre-feet of water is typically enough to supply 9,000 homes. The Nipomo CSD has 4,293 water customers.
This pipeline will keep water flowing to our faucets for the rest of our lives, James Harrison, president of the Nipomo CSD board of directors, told a group of about 30 people gathered on Santa Maria River levee.
Other speakers celebrated the pipeline as an isolated bit of good news in a region and state fraught with water shortages and rapidly declining groundwater basins.
Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian said he began working on the crisis in the Nipomo groundwater basin when he was first elected to the county Board of Supervisors 15 years ago and has continued his efforts at the Legislature.
No matter where you go in California, you hear about water, he said.
County Supervisor Caren Ray praised the perseverance of the CSD directors and other leaders in the area for overcoming a series of setbacks since the pipeline was determined to be the most feasible supplemental water option in 2007.
The most serious setback came in May 2012 when Nipomo voters turned down a $19 million assessment district to pay for the pipeline. The district decided to go ahead with the project using a phased approach and outside funding including a $2.2 million state Department of Water Resources grant.
They took a lot of heat, and they took a lot of punches, Ray said.
The pipeline is part of a 2008 court ruling to settle lawsuits over the Santa Maria groundwater basin. The ruling requires Santa Maria to provide water to the Nipomo Mesa.
Its been a long and arduous process, said Santa Maria Councilman Jack Boysen.