Morro Bay may need creek water

Facing unreliable water supplies, Morro Bay officials are working with the state to preserve a key backup source — Chorro Creek.

Earlier this month, the city filed plans with the State Water Resources Control Board in hopes of settling a complaint alleging that the city’s continued use of the creek is endangering federally protected steelhead trout that live there.

“The state water board staff recommended that the city respond to the complaint as part of a larger plan reporting on the city’s water diversion and use under its permits for Chorro Creek,” City Attorney Rob Schultz said.

The city is entitled to as much as 1,142 acre-feet per year of water from wells in Chorro Creek. But the city lacks monitoring stations to ensure that pumping is not drawing the creek down to the point at which steelhead are harmed.

That prompted John Jones of Morro Bay to file a complaint with the state in September. He wants the city to cease pumping until flow meters can be installed.

In their report to the state, Morro Bay officials detailed a list of problems that have prevented them from properly monitoring stream flows in the creek, including lack of access and permits. They hope to begin installing permanent flow meters early next year.

This is the latest in a string of water problems the city has encountered.

Morro Bay gets as much as 90 percent of its water from the State Water Project. However, supplies from that source have been recently interrupted for long periods for maintenance and repair of the pipeline.

Earlier this year, recipients of state water were told they could get as little as 5 percent of their normal deliveries in 2010 because of the drought.

This means the city must rely on backup sources such as its desalination plant and creek wells.

In 2006, streambed wells in Morro Creek began showing high levels of nitrates, a pollutant commonly associated with farm runoff. Pumping from those wells was substantially reduced.

“Nitrate levels have continued to plague Morro Valley and, together with diminished State Water Project deliveries during this period, the city has been forced to rely more heavily on the Chorro wells to meet the city’s water needs,” the report concluded.

Reach David Sneed at 781-7930.