Property owners in the Nipomo area soon will vote on whether to increase their property taxes to pay for a $26 million pipeline to import water from Santa Maria.
The question isn’t so much whether the water is needed; even opponents of the project acknowledge that it makes sense to have another source of water. Rather, the debate is over whether Santa Maria water is the best source. Those opposed to the tax measure point to other projects — especially desalination — as better alternatives.
We recognize that the pipeline will be expensive. If approved, Nipomo-area property owners will not only see their taxes increase, they’ll also pay higher water rates.
However, we believe changing course at this point would be a huge and costly mistake.
The Nipomo Community Services District has done the groundwork. It has conducted three separate studies on supplemental water alternatives over a period of nearly 20 years. Importing Santa Maria water, combined with conservation, has consistently ranked as the least costly and most easily achieved project.
Desal remains a possibility down the road, but it would take millions more dollars and many, many more years to accomplish.
Just look at Cambria’s experience; it’s been trying for decades to build a desalination plant, only to have proposals rejected by the California Coastal Commission.
Even if Nipomo managed to expedite permitting and funding of a desal plant, a pipeline would still be needed to transport water, on top of other expenses.
Other arguments against the pipeline don’t pan out either:
- Opponents say the pipeline will induce growth. That same argument can be made for any water project.
- Opponents living in the area served by Rural Water, a for-profit water company, point out that they are being asked to help pay for the project, yet they won’t receive Santa Maria water. That’s true. However, other areas of Nipomo will be able to reduce their groundwater pumping. That will improve the health and reliability of the basin, and that will benefit Rural Water customers.
- Opponents who live outside the boundaries of the Nipomo Community Services District don’t like the idea that the district will be in charge of the project. Again, any project will require a lead agency to take charge, and the Nipomo district is the logical entity.
- Opponents maintain the pipeline won’t introduce any new water to the basin; it will move around the water that’s already here. In a sense, that’s true. However, opponents neglect to say that water will be transferred from an area where there’s a surplus — Santa Maria — to an area where there’s a documented shortage.
- Opponents accuse the Nipomo Community Services District of fabricating a report of seawater intrusion in an Oceano well. They point to a letter the Oceano Community Services District recently issued that denies the report of seawater intrusion.
Our take: This is a big red herring. Even if seawater intrusion never occurred in Oceano, there are other signs that the basin is in trouble.
A pumping depression — an area around a well where the water table dips — was documented on the Nipomo Mesa years ago.
A judge who presided over a big water rights lawsuit cited that depression as evidence of a problem with the basin. After years of expensive litigation, the parties in that case proposed a solution that became a judicial order. As part of that solution, the Nipomo Community Services District agreed to import water from Santa Maria.
Now, at the eleventh hour, opponents are objecting to the cost of the pipeline and pointing to desal as a preferred alternative.
That’s a pipe dream.
It would be a grave mistake to turn down an approved project — one that will guarantee a reliable source of water for decades to come — on a gamble that a desal plant might materialize some day.
As we’ve seen again and again, putting off a project today often leads to far greater expense later; the Los Osos sewer project is a prime example of that.
We strongly urge Nipomo-area property owners to vote in favor of the Santa Maria pipeline project.
Editorials are the opinion of The Tribune.