Securing water for the future

April 9, 2014 

Frank Mecham

Over the past two months I have attended four conferences, sat on two panel discussions and have done extensive reading on the topic of water. It is clear to me that the No. 1 priority coming out of the governor’s administration is a strong focus on California’s water concerns.

Locally, the controversy rages on with opinions of what should or should not be done. One of the common questions, and rightly so, is what are we going to do about solutions? I’d like to offer a few suggestions and comment on others.

Supplemental water: At this point, the only supplemental water that is being considered is state water (which we know is not reliable) and Nacimiento water. We, the county, are doing feasibility studies to determine what, how and to what extent supplemental water could be accessed.

In my opinion, the issue of state water should continue to be considered. If, in the future, there becomes a reliable means to this source, we should at least review it. For example, if state water could be accessed, the water would be already treated when it leaves Polonio Pass. This eliminates the cost of a treatment facility.

Nacimiento water has been determined to be a reliable source. However, the initial purveyors of that project would have to support any other use of that allocation.

Recycled water: Recently I made a trip to Monterey County to visit its water and sewer plant, facilities that provide almost 20,000 acre-feet of recycled water to agriculture. We don’t do that. However, Paso Robles is completing an upgrade to its sewer plant. Within five years, it will be able to produce tertiary treated water. If agriculture could blend this with other sources it would reduce pumping of groundwater.

Desalinization: Much has been discussed regarding the potential of desal. I do believe that it is a way of the future.

Two major issues that rise to the top are energy costs and environmental concerns. However, this is an option that should be on the table. I’ve asked county staff to look into the power plant in Morro Bay to see if the possibility of a desalinization conversion could be accomplished.

In addition, former state Sen. Sam Blakeslee is looking into wave energy, which could possibly add the ability to provide desalinization technology.

Much has been said about “water banking” and “exporting” of our water source. The Water Banking Feasibility Study done in 2007 determined that the Paso Robles groundwater basin is not hydrologically or geographically suited to this process. And, we are working on an ordinance that would prevent any exportation of groundwater out of our county.

The three issues that are always at the forefront of the water issue regarding supplemental sources are: Where will it be delivered; who will take it; and who will pay for it?

If, for example, we wanted to pay for some form of water project, would a bond measure work? If we were to place a tax of $10 per year per $100,000 of assessed value on property, this would generate $65 million. What could be done with that amount?

I think it is important to recognize that we are not going to solve the current drought situation.

However, I firmly believe that we should be addressing the solutions to prepare for the next one. We are supposed to be leaving this place better than we found it. I don’t think we are doing that. My concern is for the generations to come. Will there be an adequate supply for them?

I thought I’d offer a few books that you might find of interest.

“Elixir: A History of Water and Humankind,” by Brian Fagan; “The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water,” by Charles Fishman; “Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What to Do About It,” by Robert Glennon, and “Quenching the Thirst: Sustainable Water Supply and Climate Change,” by George Annandale.

My point is that we are not in this alone, nor are we an isolated case when it comes to the concerns about water. In my opinion, in many areas groundwater is not a sustainable resource. Off-stream storage, desalinization, supplemental water all need to be reviewed.

Again, I will reference a quote from African Bushmen: “We don’t govern water, it governs us.”

Frank Mecham represents the 1st District on the county Board of Supervisors.

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