As historic drought conditions persist on the Central Coast, county Public Works engineers are hurrying to complete plans to construct a pipeline that could provide emergency water supplies for Morro Bay as well as numerous state and county facilities on Highway 1 near San Luis Obispo.
The project could cost as much as $3 million.
It calls for connecting two water pipelines running into San Luis Obispo and installing a new section of pipeline nearly a mile long that could deliver as much as 6,000 acre-feet of surplus Nacimiento Lake water to the area. That’s enough to supply a year of water to nearly 18,000 households.
“We see important benefits to reliability by having a diversified water portfolio,” said county Supervisor Bruce Gibson, who has spearheaded the project because his district includes the areas to be served. “We need to be creative to get problems solved.”
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The city of Morro Bay, the California Men’s Colony, Cuesta College, and county offices such as the jail and Office of Emergency Services — some 27,000 people in total — are highly vulnerable to the drought because they rely on the State Water Project. That pipeline is delivering only 5 percent of its capacity this year and has had delivery reliability problems.
Public Works planners hope to have the project completed by the summer of 2015. The new pipeline, called an intertie, would only be used if State Water failed or some other emergency happened and a backup water supply was needed.
“We don’t know what is going to happen with this drought and, with lead times needed on these kinds of projects, we think it’s a good thing to tackle this now,” said Paavo Ogren, county Public Works director.
The two pipelines that will be connected are the Nacimiento pipeline, which runs from Nacimiento Lake to as far south as San Luis Obispo, and the Salinas waterline. That line runs from Santa Margarita Lake to Camp San Luis Obispo.
The first part of the project will connect those pipelines near the base of the Cuesta Grade. The intertie would allow some 6,000 acre-feet of surplus water from Nacimiento Lake to flow into the Salinas waterline.
Those pipes run very close together near the base of the Cuesta Grade. The intertie could be completed at a cost of $123,500.
The second part of the project is more complicated and involves extending the Salinas waterline nearly a mile from its current end at Chorro Creek in Camp San Luis Obispo to the water treatment plant for the California Men’s Colony.
Nacimiento Lake water is raw and must be treated before it can be used for domestic purposes. This part of the project is expected to cost between $1.2 million and $2.7 million.
From the water plant, the treated surplus Nacimiento water could be fed into the water distribution system supplying myriad state and county offices along Highway 1. The water could also be fed into the State Water Project lines to be delivered to Morro Bay, if needed.
The project will have to be on a fast track if it is to be completed by summer 2015. Several details still have to be worked out.
The biggest area of uncertainty is financing. The county plans to apply for grants from a number of state agencies, such as the Department of Water Resources, because state facilities such as the prison and Cuesta College would be primary beneficiaries.
“I think the project will qualify for funding from several state sources,” Gibson said.
Getting the environmental permits needed to conduct the project could also be a challenge. The area where the pipeline will be constructed is habitat for the federally protected California red-legged frog, but Public Works officials are confident that the details can be worked out.
All of the work on the project would take place on land owned by Camp San Luis Obispo, which is cooperating with the project.
“Completing construction by 2015 is entirely reasonable,” said Mark Hutchinson, environmental programs manager for the Public Works Department.
There are also questions about whether the prison’s water treatment plant can handle the additional 3 million gallons of water a day that would be required if the emergency intertie was ever activated. Much of the water infrastructure in and around the water treatment plant was constructed in 1941, just before the outbreak of World War II.
Preliminary analysis by the state Department of Corrections indicates that the plant could handle the extra load but may need some retrofitting, Ogren said.
The project is in the engineering design phase, and Public Works planners hope to move into the permitting phase later this year. They are hoping that the project will eventually be a key component in dealing with water shortages in the area for years to come.
“This project will give us a lot of flexibility to move water around,” Gibson said.