The Nipomo Community Services District could cut off new water service connections if advanced drought conditions are declared, under a draft action plan discussed Wednesday.
However, the services district board would only consider doing so if the groundwater basin falls to extremely low levels and there’s evidence of seawater intrusion, and the severe water shortage exists for more than two years.
“We want to put in place tools that your board can adopt should we hit advanced stages of drought,” said district general manager Michael LeBrun.
The board told the district staff to move ahead with the action plan, which will come back to board members for consideration and approval in about six weeks.
While heavy rain is expected in San Luis Obispo County this week, drought conditions are still a concern because the aquifer serving the district is at the lowest level in nearly 40 years.
Two weeks ago, the board voted 3-2 to approve a water shortage response plan that could also mean higher water rates for residents within the Nipomo services district under certain drought conditions.
A district consultant is now preparing a set of rate increases that the board could decide to put into effect if a severe water shortage is declared.
Before any rate increases could occur, however, residents would have 45 days to object. A majority of customers would have to protest to halt the increases.
Since spring 2008, the Nipomo district — which provides water to about 12,000 people and 40 businesses — has been operating under a Stage 2 condition, meaning that a potentially severe water shortage exists. District officials have asked residents to voluntarily reduce their water use by 30 percent.
Currently, Nipomo residents have one source of water, an underground aquifer that serves parts of southern San Luis Obispo and northern Santa Barbara counties.
Aquifer levels were 30 percent lower in spring 2013 than in the previous spring and are the lowest since 1975, the earliest year on record. The measurements were just short of triggering a Stage 3 severe water shortage in spring 2013, LeBrun said.
If a Stage 3 condition is triggered, the district is required to reduce its production of groundwater by 30 percent. A Stage 4 condition would trigger a mandatory 50 percent reduction in production, and Stage 5 would compel the district to reduce its pumping by 60 percent.
The district is currently continuing to process new applications for water service. However, if a Stage 3 condition is declared, the district board may stop accepting new applications under the action plan discussed Wednesday.
Stage 4 could prompt the board to stop processing existing applications except for those with will-serve letters, which means the district has committed to providing water service. And Stage 5 could mean that no new water service is allowed.
“If we get to level 5, we are basically declaring our water supply is not adequate enough to support the necessary uses,” said district legal counsel Michael Seitz. “Even if you have a will-serve letter, we’re basically saying we can't serve you.”
Board member Bob Blair expressed concern.
“We made a commitment to these people to give them will-serve letters,” he said. “A guy wants to build his dream house; I don’t think we have the right to put a hole in his dream if he’s paid his money.”
But as member Craig Armstrong noted later in the meeting, “We have 4,500 customers we have to take care of. You don’t want them to be irate because we’re adding more customers while asking them to cut water use as much as possible.”
LeBrun added that the will-serve letters don’t expire.
“We’re talking about honoring those commitments unless a Stage 5 condition is declared,” he said. “And then we would let folks know (that) when drought conditions diminish, we would then meet this condition we have given you.”
LeBrun plans to meet soon with San Luis Obispo County planning staff — which considers applications for building permits on the Mesa — to discuss a draft water policy statement that the district board has supported. It states in part that the district will work with the county to ensure new developments either bring supplemental water or pay a fee.
Eventually, Nipomo officials hope to get the statement in front of county supervisors.