Supplemental water from the long-awaited Santa Maria pipeline is set to begin flowing into Nipomo on July 1, and customers can expect a corresponding jump in their water bills as the Nipomo Community Services District begins to charge its next tier of conservation rates.
District manager Michael LeBrun said the district will begin testing the pipeline in June, and the first of the supplemental water will be delivered to customers soon after. The pipeline is being built in phases with about 650 acre-feet of water delivered annually in the first phase and 3,000 acre-feet per year at build-out.
Customers' water bills will jump by about 30 percent when water starts flowing in July, LeBrun said.
In November 2014, the district approved tiered conservation rates for all of its customers to help pay for the $17.5 million pipeline project, which gives Nipomo a second source of water beyond its reliance on the groundwater basin.
The pipeline is the first project to bring new water into San Luis Obispo County in 20 years and the first developed water to be brought into Nipomo ever, LeBrun said.
"It is past the time when any community should be comfortable relying on a single water source," he said. "Look at Los Osos and Cambria; both are reliant on a single source of water, and they are in a world of hurt right now. This is an exciting time to be in Nipomo as a part of this project."
Under the new water rate structure, a household that uses an average amount of water — about 36 units, or 27,000 gallons, every two months — will see its water bill increase from $119.37 to $160.43. That does not include sewage costs.
A second round of water rate increases will go into effect Nov. 1.
Customers who use more water under the new rate structure will be penalized with higher costs, while customers using less water will pay less, LeBrun said. This essentially rewards people for greater water conservation, he said.
Water conservation is a hot-button issue throughout the state, in light of Gov. Jerry Brown's call for an overall 25 percent mandatory cut to water usage and even more conservation in some communities. Nipomo was identified as one of the areas that needed to reduce its water use by 25 percent over 2013.
Conservation is a double-edged sword for the district, however, LeBrun said, especially in light of Nipomo's large-scale capital pipeline project.
The district structured its latest water rate schedule to pay for the pipeline while still taking into account a 30 percent drop in water use over the span of the California drought.
If Nipomo customers conserve more than the district projected, it would reduce the district's revenue and put the build-out of the pipeline project in danger. If that happens, the Community Services District would have to consider greater water rate increases to pay for the pipeline project's completion.
"It's kind of a lead balloon," LeBrun said. "You say, 'You guys did a great job conserving, now we're going to increase your water bill.' It's a volatile situation. But at the end of the day, the customers are going to pay, no matter what."