Two weeks after Nipomo area property owners voted against a tax increase that would have financed a water pipeline from Santa Maria, local leaders took the first step toward curtailing future growth in the unincorporated community.
The Nipomo Community Ser-vices District board voted 4-1 on Wednesday to stop processing new applications for water service, effective immediately. Board President Jim Harrison dissented.
Applications for so-called “intent-to-serve” letters may still be submitted but will sit and collect dust, as one board member put it, until the moratorium is lifted.
“We continue to pump water we don’t have,” board member Michael Winn said. “We’re in arrears. We can’t continue on like nothing happened two weeks ago.”
Never miss a local story.
The entire community relies on one source of water, an underground aquifer, which district leaders say is being depleted faster than it’s being replenished.
The board’s action does not affect the nine intent-to-serve applications that are being processed, nor will it affect an outstanding 276 “will-serve” letters. An intent-to-serve letter indicates the district will provide water if certain conditions are met; a will-serve letter means the district has committed to providing water service.
But district board members could take future action toward a blanket moratorium on providing any new water service.
The board also voted to form a two-member committee to discuss the district’s next steps — from revisiting alternative ways to bring more water to the area to pursuing a slimmed-down pipeline project.
Board members aim to take action as quickly as possible with the hope they don’t lose a $2.3 million state grant they obtained for the project.
They also acknowledged what they described as a “public relations problem” in communicating the district’s goals and water needs to the community.
“We need to hear from the community,” board member Larry Vierheilig said. “We need to get them working on the process so there’s some ownership out there.”
To date, $4 million has been spent on the pipeline effort. On May 10, the district announced that its effort to increase property taxes to pay for the $26 million project had failed.
Opponents of the project, who had questioned the pipeline’s long-term cost and the reliability of the Santa Maria water, also have asserted that increased water usage has not affected overall well levels.
One local developer made a similar argument Wednesday, noting that the district has decreased its pumping in the past few years.
“That doesn’t sound to me as though we’re down to our last glass of water,” said Bill Kengel of Teddy Bear Homes. “It sounds to me like people are being punished for a job well done.”
The board also heard from other developers, who said their projects would hit a standstill if they couldn’t obtain an intent-to-serve letter.
But district officials say the problem on the Mesa hasn’t changed. “The reality is we haven’t had enough water to allocate for construction in three to five years,” Winn said.
The district continued to provide water, though, based on the assumption that the pipeline project would move ahead, he added.
“We have less water today than our current customers need,” he said.
Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.
How to get involved
The water resources policy committee will hold its first meeting at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the district office, 148 S. Wilson St. Members include Ed Eby and Michael Winn.
Alternative projects that have been studied by the district can be viewed at www.ncsd.ca.gov (click on “water shortage news”).