Arroyo Grande moving forward with new water restrictions

Lopez Lake levels fell this year, prompting concerns for Arroyo Grande, which derives much of its water from the reservoir.
Lopez Lake levels fell this year, prompting concerns for Arroyo Grande, which derives much of its water from the reservoir. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

More water restrictions seem to be on the way for Arroyo Grande residents — but likely not until sometime next year.

The Arroyo Grande City Council drafted a new set of “triggers” for water shortage emergencies at its meeting Tuesday night that would require residents to conserve an additional 5 percent more water than their current targets, as well as instate a building moratorium and other restrictions. The restrictions would be triggered by low lake levels, groundwater levels or other disruptions in the city’s water supply.

The drafted restrictions and triggers will have to come back before the council at a later meeting for final approval.

The city has been in a declared phase 1 water shortage emergency since May 2015. Under that emergency, all city residents were required to reduce their water consumption by a certain percentage depending on historic water use, or face fines. Offenders were also offered the opportunity to attend “water school” — a nighttime session that details everything about Arroyo Grande’s water system and historic water use, plus the drought.

Since then, residents have reduced their water usage by about 36.5 percent, according to a city staff report.

Even as residents have conserved more, water levels at both Lopez Lake and in the Santa Maria Groundwater Basin have continued to fall, prompting citywide concerns about the future of the water supply. Some estimates have said the city has enough water to adequately supply its demand for the next three years, while others say the situation is more dire.

As of Thursday, Lopez Lake was only 23.5 percent full, with 11,595 acre-feet of water (one acre-foot is equal to 325,851 gallons, or enough to generally supply one household for a year).

At its meeting Tuesday night, the City Council voted 3-2, with Mayor Jim Hill and Councilman Tim Brown dissenting, to add new triggers to the existing phase 1 water shortage emergency that would essentially create a sub-phase with additional water-use restrictions.

“Tonight, we are talking about short-term,” Councilman Jim Guthrie said. “What we are talking about tonight are measures to get us through a drought. There is a separate discussion that could be had about the long-term implications of whatever the new reality is.”

The new water restrictions would be:

▪  A required 5 percent increase in water conservation for all residents.

▪  A building moratorium that would allow processing of existing project applications but not the issuance of building permits unless the project has already been deemed complete or been issued a vesting map.

▪  A prohibition on private vehicle washing.

▪  A reduction in overall irrigation of city-owned non-sports field turf areas to 25 percent of the 2015 use.

These restrictions would be instated if one of three things happen: if local water deliveries are interrupted in some way; if Lopez Lake water levels are at or below 10,000 acre-feet; or if well water level readings in the basin are below the deep-well index trigger level of 7.5 feet plus the Lopez water supply falls by 20 percent or indications of sea water intrusion are detected.

City staff said Tuesday night that the city could theoretically reach the 10,000-foot trigger by January.

Hill and Brown voted against the motion because they supported instating the additional restrictions immediately, and not waiting for the proposed triggers.

“I don’t think there is any benefit in waiting to the 10,000-foot trigger,” Brown said. “It’s inevitable. We’re going to get there in January. We should start now.”

Hill additionally called the triggers the “fatal flaw” in Tuesday night’s discussions.

“I don’t know that triggers that’ll kick the can down the road would necessarily make much sense,” he said.

Kaytlyn Leslie: 805-781-7928, @kaytyleslie