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SLO County officials head to D.C. in search of funding for Salinas Dam

Water falls through the Salinas Dam spillway after Santa Margarita Lake filled for the first time in years in February.
Water falls through the Salinas Dam spillway after Santa Margarita Lake filled for the first time in years in February. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

San Luis Obispo County officials will be in Washington, D.C., next week in an attempt to leverage President Donald Trump’s campaign promise of a $1 trillion infrastructure investment into support for county water projects.

“The administration, Congress and Senate have all said they want to hear about projects that can move forward infrastructure,” Board of Supervisors Chairman John Peschong said. “My goal is to discuss putting the gates on Salinas Dam and doubling its capacity to store water … I’m trying to get that one project in front of decision makers. We have an opportunity to make our case, and that’s what we’re attempting to do.”

Installing spillway gates at the Salinas Dam in Santa Margarita would increase the reservoir’s water storage capacity from 24,000 acre-feet to about 45,000 acre-feet. County officials will meet with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and work to find grant funding to improve water supply. The project likely would take 10 to 20 years to complete once funding is available.

Supervisor Debbie Arnold, county public works director Wade Horton, deputy director John Diodati and Peschong are scheduled to sit down with agency representatives during the meeting-packed three-day trip to generate support for public works projects.

“With this current administration’s focus on infrastructure investment, I’m hoping that’s an opportunity that will benefit our county,” Horton said.

Water projects are the priority requests, including efforts to increase storage, improve resiliency and work toward compliance with the state’s plan to manage groundwater. Some of those projects require federal money, and county officials believe that in-person meetings can help win low-interest grants.

“It’s a revolving door of asks and needs,” Arnold said. “Sometimes it is establishing relationships that helps us be able to stand out from all those other requests.”

Appointments are scheduled Monday through Wednesday with the Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as well with U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal and Sen. Kamala Harris’ staff to discuss the impacts the California drought has had on county residents.

The team also plans to discuss the following projects:

▪  The Bureau of Reclamation awarded a grant to complete studies of the Salinas and Carmel River basins by 2020. The county is interested in expediting that work to incorporate it into planning needed to implement the state Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

▪  Lack of maintenance at the Arroyo Grande Creek Channel Waterway has reduced capacity in the channel because of sediment buildup. Maintenance is needed to improve the levee system to protect life and property from flood. A final permit to do the work is held up at the National Marine Fisheries Services, within NOAA. County officials hope to resolve some issues to get final permit approval.

▪  In addition to asking for support for water projects, the team will give a report and update on the Los Osos wastewater treatment project to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which provided a significant loan for the project, and will work with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on a program to connect low-income residents to the sewer.

Monica Vaughan: 805-781-7930, @MonicaLVaughan

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