A building moratorium imposed in Pismo Beach last year in response to the statewide drought will remain in effect despite an unexpected increase in state water deliveries.
The Pismo Beach City Council imposed a three-tiered system of building restrictions in December and activated the first tier, which bans building permits for vacant parcels and requires owners of existing buildings who want to redevelop them to show that water demand wouldn’t increase with the reconstruction.
The council on Tuesday briefly considered dropping the Tier 1 restrictions after staff said the city’s water supply has improved because of increases in state water deliveries, putting the total expected water supply outside of the moratorium’s “trigger level” of 1,630 acre-feet.
I don’t think we can go through the end of the year and just have Lopez Lake dry up and have the groundwater dry up and say that is OK because we have state water.
Shelly Higginbotham, Pismo Beach mayor
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Ultimately, the council decided to keep the current restrictions because they didn’t believe the city’s water supply — namely the questionable health of Lopez Lake — had improved enough to justify resuming building as usual.
“Right now, we are way out of the trigger. But we are, at the same time, still concerned about what’s happening with Lopez, what’s happening with groundwater later on this year — and we have some rain forecast, but we don’t know how much,” Councilman Ed Waage said Tuesday night. “Until I feel more comfortable, I guess I’d rather be a little more prudent and not move forward at this time.”
Signs of improvement
Tier 1 is activated when the city’s total water supply falls below 1,630 acre-feet from two sources: the Santa Maria groundwater basin and anticipated surface water from the state and Lopez Lake.
The tier is activated either when the basin’s deep-well index — a measurement of the basin’s health — is below 7.5 feet and the city’s surface supplies are 1,330 acre-feet or less, or when the well depth is above 7.5 feet but surface supplies are below 1,180 acre-feet.
When the council enacted the first tier in December, the surface water supply for 2016 was about 1,036.8 acre-feet.
45 percentAmount of city’s water allocation the state has promised it will deliver this year
Since then, the state has increased its expected water deliveries from 10 percent to 45 percent because of El Niño rains and a healthier snowpack in parts of California. This brings the city’s expected surface supplies to 1,855.8 acre-feet, not including stored water.
As of a January measurement, the basin’s deep-well index has also increased to 9.18 feet.
Ben Fine, Pismo Beach’s public works director, cautioned, however, that the seemingly improved status of the basin could deteriorate this summer.
Lopez Lake still at risk
Despite the rosier state of the basin and state water allocations, council members still worried that the tenuous health of Lopez Lake — which hasn’t seen significant increases in its capacity despite this year’s rains — puts the city’s water resources in danger.
The lake was at about 30 percent of its total capacity as of March 29. Because of the low level, the city can only receive 90 percent of its annual allocation, and that could drop if the water level drops.
14,671.7 acre-feet How much water Lopez Lake currently holds
“I’m kind of worried about Lopez Lake, and I’m worried about our basin,” Mayor Shelly Higginbotham said Tuesday. “I understand when we set the rules, you want to keep to the rules, but holy smokes — I don’t think we can go through the end of the year and just have Lopez Lake dry up and have the groundwater dry up and say that is OK because we have state water.”
Lake officials also cautioned that the lake could reach “dead pool” — or the level at which water will no longer flow — sometime between March 2017 and 2019, depending on rainfall this year.
What is Tier 1?
The restrictions for Tier 1 include:
- Existing permit applications submitted on or before Dec. 1, 2015, will be processed for building permits to be issued.
- New planning permit applications for vacant parcels will be accepted and processed, but building permits will not be issued until Tier 1 is declared over.
- New commercial/retail use of existing buildings will be allowed, but only if water demand will be less than or equal to existing water demand over the past 24 months — including if there was no water use during that time (for example, if no water was used over the past 24 months, any new use of the building would not be allowed to use water).
- Redevelopment of existing buildings (commercial, retail, residential, etc.) will be allowed, but only if proposed water demand is less than or equal to current water use at the existing building.