Nipomo welcomed the first of its supplemental water from Santa Maria on July 2, but on Wednesday, the community services district held a ribbon-cutting ceremony at its pipeline pumphouse to officially welcome the new water into the community.
The $17.5 million, 2-mile-long pipeline provides a critical second water source for Nipomo, beyond its groundwater basin where extreme drought has only exacerbated longstanding problems of overpumping and saltwater intrusion.
By July 2016, the pipeline is expected to bring in about 650 acre-feet of water per year — more than 210 million gallons. In 10 years, four times that amount will flow through the pipeline each year.
The mood at Wednesday’s ribbon-cutting was upbeat. About 70 people attended the Nipomo Community Services District event, including 4th District San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Lynn Compton and Santa Maria Mayor Alice Patino, both of whom raved about the project.
“Today is a very exciting day for both Santa Maria and Nipomo,” Patino told the gathering. “The city of Santa Maria is very pleased to be here and very pleased to be providing high-quality water to the community of Nipomo, which benefits all of us.”
Although 210 million gallons are expected to flow through the pipeline by next summer, that will increase in phases over the next decade. By 2025, roughly 2,500 acre-feet of water, or 814.6 million gallons, could be piped annually from Santa Maria to Nipomo.
That schedule could speed up if the statewide drought continues, district general manager Michael LeBrun said.
The pipeline and its water deliveries have come after years of controversy, stretching back to a 2008 court ruling that settled lawsuits over the Santa Maria groundwater basin by requiring Santa Maria to provide water to the Nipomo Mesa.
In 2012, Nipomo voters rejected an assessment district to pay for the pipeline, so the district forged ahead with a phased project and outside funding. Still, Nipomo water customers saw their water rates jump by 30 percent in July.
Most recently, environmental activist Erin Brockovich criticized the district for switching to chloramine as its secondary disinfectant, which she claims makes the water more toxic to consumers.
The district switched from chlorine to chloramine — a combination of ammonia and chlorine — to match the treatment process for the water coming from Santa Maria through the pipeline, LeBrun said. Both he and a representative of the State Water Resources Control Board Division of Drinking Water Programs have said the disinfectant is a safe alternative to free chlorine.
Brockovich has called for a public meeting between herself and the district, though LeBrun says he thinks that representatives of the State Water Resources Control Board or the Environmental Protection Agency would be better choices to discuss the use of chloramines. No such meeting is planned.
With the pipeline now complete, several construction phases must still be done before the supplemental water project is finished, LeBrun said.
The district has begun work on a half-million-gallon reservoir tank next to the pumphouse. Over the next three to five years, the district also will install more parallel pipes and infrastructure to support the increase in water, LeBrun said. All construction is expected to be done by 2022.
Exactly how the pipeline will be used in the future could change as the region grapples with water and drought, he said.
“It’s hard to assess how this project is going to be used in the decades ahead, because water resources are something that South County still has a lot of work to do (on),” LeBrun said after the event. “Regional water resources projects may utilize this pipeline that we’ve built in a completely different way.
“But in terms of this pipeline today, what this means is the ability for the district to provide an alternate source of water to our community that will reduce the demand on the groundwater basin, and will provide for us if this drought continues to intensify.”