Three South County cities are seeking a court order to limit groundwater pumping and new development on the Nipomo Mesa until water providers can import more water and stop overpumping the Santa Maria groundwater basin.
The request, filed in Santa Clara Superior Court on Sept. 29 by the cities of Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach and Pismo Beach, comes as part of an almost decadeslong legal battle over water rights in the basin.
In a 2005 stipulation and 2008 judgment, a Santa Clara County Superior Court judge divided control of the portion of the basin that rests in southern San Luis Obispo County between two management areas:
- The Northern Cities Management Area representing Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach, Oceano and Pismo Beach.
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- The Nipomo Mesa Management Area, which represents the four Mesa water providers: the Nipomo Community Services District, Golden State Water Co., Rural Water Co. and Woodlands Mutual Water Co.
At the same time, the judge ordered the Nipomo Community Services District to build a supplemental water pipeline and purchase a minimum of 2,500 acre-feet of water per year from Santa Maria to help offset new development and decrease groundwater pumping on the Mesa.
The motion filed by legal counsel for the three South County cities asks the court to enforce the 2005 stipulation and 2008 judgment.
In the document, the cities allege that the Nipomo Mesa Management Area has overpumped the basin, creating a pumping depression below the Mesa that prevents underground recharge from reaching the Northern Cities Management Group’s portion of the basin.
According to the documents, groundwater pumping in the Nipomo area increased from 10,900 acre-feet in 2005 to about 16,000 acre-feet in 2014.
They said the depression also raises the risk of saltwater intrusion to Northern Cities Management Area wells, which would render its aquifer unusable.
Additionally, the cities claim the Nipomo Community Services District has not made a “good faith effort” in bringing in supplemental water resources.
The NCSD recently celebrated the completion of its first phase of the pipeline project, which is expected to bring in 650 acre-feet of water in its first year. The project is not expected to bring in 2,500 acre-feet of water — the amount ordered by the judge — until approximately 2025.
In their filing, the cities maintain that this is not enough to fulfill the original terms of the stipulation and judgment:
“That it took over ten years for NCSD to complete Phase 1 of this important project — which provided a mere one-quarter of the amount of supplemental water promised in the stipulation and judgment — demonstrates that the NCSD has no reasonable prospect of finishing Phases 2 and 3 of this project and delivering the balance of promised water for years, if not decades.”
The cities are seeking restrictions on water pumping and new development in the Mesa area until the Nipomo Mesa Management Group can import that 2,500 acre-feet of supplemental water into the area, secure additional supplemental water sources that cover its increased water demand, implement a plan that ensures new water demand does not require groundwater pumping in excess of its 2005 pumping levels and reverse the pumping depression below the Mesa.
Nipomo Community Services District General Manager Michael LeBrun said district counsel is reviewing the filing and will advise the district and its board on its response, which is due in December. LeBrun said the district would not comment on the issue further.
A hearing date for the filings is set for Feb. 5, 2016, at 10 a.m. in Santa Clara County Superior Court.
A closer look at the cities' request
The cities of Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach and Pismo Beach are asking the court to issue an order that would indefinitely prohibit Nipomo water agencies and the county from doing the following:
- approving new developments or additional entitlements that require water in the Nipomo Mesa Management area;
- issuing building permits for new developments that require water in the Nipomo Mesa Management Area;
- issuing “will serve” letters promising water service to a project in the Nipomo Mesa Management area;
- using water from the supplemental pipeline project or any other imported water for any purpose other than reducing the demand for groundwater pumping within the Nipomo Mesa Management area;
- reducing, removing, lifting or modifying existing mandatory water conservation requirements in a way that increases groundwater demand;
- granting new well permits; and
- granting replacement well permits that increase the pumping rate or total amount pumped annually.