Oceano Board considers water sales

Raising concerns about the long-term viability of Oceano’s water sources and the town’s needs, community services district leaders this week discussed selling some of their excess water to South County neighbors.

In several split votes, Oceano Community Service District board members decided not to pursue selling water to Arroyo Grande, but to see if Pismo Beach and Nipomo might be interested in buying some.

But later during the district’s Wednesday night meeting, board members decided to reconsider their decision toward Arroyo Grande, which is looking for a permanent source of water to help fill its long-term needs.

That item will come back before the Oceano board, said district General Manager Raffaele Montemurro.

In October, the board had directed Montemurro to see if neighboring communities might be interested in purchasing water from Oceano as one way to lessen steep water and sewer rate increases that have been proposed for the district’s 2,121 customers.

“I’m concerned the people in this community are going to be priced right out of here, because if we can’t sell water then you’re going to have to raise rates,” said board member Jim Hill.

Board President Vern Dahl, however, said the district should diligently pursue other temporary agreements to sell water, but that a permanent sale “is not a good decision for this community.”

The district receives its water from Lopez Lake east of Arroyo Grande, the state and from groundwater via pumping.

Oceano has 1,953 acre-feet available, but uses only about 900 acre-feet a year, mainly from Lopez Lake and state water. An acre-foot is enough water to serve several single-family homes for a year.

Oceano is selling 100 acre-feet of water to Arroyo Grande on a temporary basis, for which Arroyo Grande will pay about $150,000 this year.

Montemurro proposed to board members they end that agreement and instead sell 200 acre-feet of water from Lopez Lake to the city — a recommendation they denied 3-2, with board members Pamela Dean, Mary Lucey and Dahl opposing the sale.

“I’m very reluctant to sell water on a permanent basis, but if I have to, then I would prefer it be groundwater,” Lucey said Friday.

The board then voted 3-2 to direct Montemurro to see whether Pismo Beach would be interested in purchasing up to 300 acre-feet of groundwater on a permanent or temporary basis. Dahl and Dean dissented.

“Water is our one commodity,” Dean said. “We’ve set aside this water so we can grow and develop and I don’t want to see us putting ourselves at risk.”

The Pismo Beach City Council on Tuesday will discuss whether to establish a policy allowing its staff to facilitate the acquisition of water resources for developers and property owners who want to annex their land into the city.

Developers Rick Loughead and John King have requested the city help them purchase state water for a proposed project that would eventually add hundreds of homes and hotel rooms to 1,700 acres located north of the city along Price Canyon Road.

The Oceano board also voted unanimously to see whether water purveyors in Nipomo, including that community’s service district, might be interested in purchasing up to 300 acre-feet on a permanent or temporary basis.

“If they are going to offer water to Nipomo, how are they going to get it to Nipomo?” asked Nipomo district board member Ed Eby.

As of Wednesday, he said, Oceano had not yet contacted the Nipomo board members and staff.

Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.