I think folks are tired of hearing about what the current situation is in regard to the drought. I think what they would like to know is what can we do about it. To be clear, there is nothing we can do about the current situation until we are blessed with rain. We’ve gone through droughts before, and we will go through them again and again. Like an earthquake, we don’t know when it will hit or how long it will last.
So, what can we do to prepare ourselves for the next drought? There are three questions that must be answered before we can resolve the problem:
1. Who will take the water?
2. How will you get it where it needs to go? 3. Who will pay for it?
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I will offer five possible solutions that, combined, would solve our water problems far into the future.
1. Desalinization. Currently, our partners PG&E, at the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, are not using their desalination plant to its full capacity. If they were to do so, and if additional funding were provided, not only could water be provided at full capacity, but an expanded facility could provide water for a good portion of the county. Again, who would take it, and who would pay for it? If this could be accomplished, there is a potential to sell state water and apply proceeds towards desalinization, where production would be controlled locally and provide a more reliable source year to year. Again, we would have to build the infrastructure to make this happen.
2. Nacimiento water. The purveyors of the Nacimiento Water Project are working to secure the full allocation from the lake. Currently, there is approximately 6,000 all of surplus water that we have no “carry over” rights on. At the end of the water year, we basically lose it. If full subscription were obtained, each of the purveyors could arrange for water contracts if they determined they would not need their full subscription. This could provide water to agriculture or rural areas in need. The big cost here, again, is the infrastructure.
3. The Salinas Dam. Built in 1941 to provide water to Camp San Luis during WWII, the dam was built in less than a year. Due to concerns with the northern abutment, which was later stabilized, the 19-foot-tall gate that was to be installed was instead shipped off to another dam site. The dam is under the jurisdiction of the Army Corp of Engineers. They would like to divest themselves of the dam because they recognize no benefit. The water from the lake was never sent to Camp San Luis and instead, the City of San Luis Obispo acquired water rights. If the gates could be put back in, lake capacity could be increased. This issue is that the dam would require retrofit to accommodate the gates and increased storage. So, if we could find a way to partner with the Corp and others to retrofit the dam and put the 19-foottall gate back, we would double the capacity of the lake. This could provide water to the north and south in our county.
4. Recycled water. Monterey County provides 20,000 all per year of reclaimed water to agriculture. The City of Paso Robles is near completion of its new waste water treatment facility, which can provide 2-4000 a/f of reclaimed water a year. I think our future will require more use of reclaimed water for agriculture, golf courses and ball fields.
5. Catch basins. If, and it’s a big if, we get an El Niño year, it would be a great opportunity to have catch water basins in areas that would allow for slower percolation, keep pressure on the basins and slowly meter out water. Areas that are conducive to this practice would need property owner permission and, with the assistance of other agencies, like the RCD (Resource Conservation District) and some funding from the County, we could establish these catch basins in several areas.