Over the Hill

Nacimiento pipeline was a good bet for Paso Robles

Special to The TribuneMay 1, 2014 

Phil Dirkx

This has been a good week for some past and present Paso Robles City Council members. They could feel vindicated. On Sunday The Tribune reported that county officials are planning to link Morro Bay and other neighboring drought-troubled locations to the Nacimiento Water Project pipeline.

The other locations include Cuesta College, the California Men’s Colony, the County Jail and the Office of Emergency Services. They and Morro Bay are served by the State Water Project pipeline, which this year is delivering about 5 percent of its capacity.

The state pipeline came into this county in the 1990s. Paso Robles decided not to join it, but when the Nacimiento pipeline was proposed, Paso Robles plunged in. The City Council committed the city to take 4,000 acre-feet of Nacimiento water per year, the most of any participant.

But that Nacimiento water costs money. It now costs Paso Robles about $4.5 million per year. So in 2007 the City Council proposed higher water rates. Resistance quickly developed. The council endured years of criticism.

There were frequent protests at council meetings, lawsuits and a referendum election. City officials also made some missteps but eventually presented a water-rate structure that a majority would accept. The opposition faded away.

But now, with its 4,000 acre-feet of Nacimiento water each year, Paso Robles can face the drought calmly and confidently. And so, I assume, can the other participants in the Nacimiento Water Project: San Luis Obispo with 3,380 acre-feet, Atascadero with 2,000, Templeton with 250, and Cayucos with 25.

Those commitments total 9,655 acre-feet, but the Nacimiento pipeline can deliver 15,750 acre-feet per year. So 6,095 acre-feet are still uncommitted. (An acre-foot of water is, as you probably assumed, an acre of water a foot deep. It contains 325,851 gallons and is enough to supply about three households with water for a year.)

Those 6,095 uncommitted acre-feet are available to purchasers who buy in as permanent participants. Some water might also be available on a temporary, emergency or trial basis, but not in time to help Morro Bay and the others this year. The intertie pipeline link can’t be completed this year.

I suppose some of you wonder if Nacimiento water is reliable. Nacimiento Lake often looks empty. But it’s a very big lake, and even when it looks empty, it still holds lots of water.

It can hold 377,900 acre-feet. As of Tuesday it held 82,283 acre-feet. That’s more than any other reservoir in this county can hold when chock-full. Nothing is certain during a drought, but Nacimiento Lake is a good bet.

Phil Dirkx has lived in Paso Robles for more than five decades, and his column is published weekly. Reach him at 238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.

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