Our big, bad drought has highlighted the value of our Nacimiento pipeline. It also confirmed the foresight of the leaders of the five communities that contracted for Nacimiento water. They are Paso Robles, Templeton, Atascadero, San Luis Obispo and Cayucos Community Services District 10A.
All of them signed up for set amounts of Nacimiento Lake water each year. And they agreed to pay for it whether they used it or not. My hometown, Paso Robles, signed up in 2004.
The Cayucos district contracted for 25 acre-feet per year; San Luis Obispo, 3,380; Atascadero, 2,000; Templeton, 250; and Paso Robles, 4,000. Those entitlements give their communities the confidence and wherewithal to cope with our current prolonged drought.
An acre-foot equals 325,851 gallons. Or picture a 100-yard football field. Take five yards off each end and cover the remainder of the field with water one-foot deep. That’s an acre-foot of water.
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The 45-mile Nacimiento pipeline includes pumping stations, storage tanks and other necessities. It cost $176 million to build. Operating it costs more millions. It started operating Jan. 7, 2011.
Paso Robles then had to pay for 4,000 acre-feet of Nacimiento water per year that the city still wasn’t ready to use. Nacimiento Lake water must be treated because people are allowed to swim in the lake. But the City Council didn’t have the money to build the needed water-treatment plant.
The council couldn’t raise the money for the treatment plant because it couldn’t get the city’s water rates increased. The council took up six water-rate proposals in four years. The first five failed for various reasons. The sixth was approved April 12, 2011.
“Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others,” as Winston Churchill may or may not have said.
So Paso Robles was finally able to build an $11.3 million treatment plant that’s scheduled to be completed this summer. It will be able to treat 2.4 million gallons of Nacimiento water per day.
But until then, Paso Robles can treat only a limited amount of its Nacimiento water. The water is released into the Salinas River’s sandy bed, and later pumped from the riverbed farther downstream, fully cleansed by the river sands.
This will soon be solved, but we already have something else to squabble about. It’s our shrinking groundwater basin. I hope we find a realistic correction for that predicament before our water runs out.