Arroyo Grande still wants to buy water from Oceano

Another water sale could be looming between South County communities, if Oceano is open to negotiating a sale with one of its neighbors.

With a focus on its long-term water needs, Arroyo Grande’s City Council on Tuesday night told its city manager to discuss buying additional water from the Oceano Community Services District on a permanent basis.

City administrators are seeking up to 250 acre-feet of groundwater or state water from Oceano, which in recent weeks has discussed selling water to its neighbors.

Oceano’s district board last Wednesday voted to allow its general manager to negotiate selling a total of 300 acre-feet of water to two separate developers interested in annexing their properties to Pismo Beach.

An acre-foot of water can serve several single-family homes for a year.

Oceano’s board, however, rejected a request to sell Lopez Lake water to Arroyo Grande. Arroyo Grande City Manager Steve Adams asked the council Tuesday if he can negotiate with Oceano for water from other sources.

In January 2009, Arroyo Grande city officials renewed an agreement with Oceano for the temporary purchase of up to 100 acre-feet of water. At the time, the city was using 99 percent of its supply of 3,758 acre-feet per year, which comes from Lopez Lake reservoir and local aquifers.

Through conservation efforts, water usage has decreased to 88 percent of its total supply, Adams said. However, he estimated that an additional 350 to 450 acre-feet are needed to meet the city’s long-term needs.

The city’s General Plan, updated in 2001, estimated its current population of about 17,145 residents could grow to more than 20,000 people by 2023, said Community Development Director Teresa McClish.

Acquiring state water or groundwater is more complicated than purchasing a portion of Oceano’s Lopez Lake water, which would have only required Arroyo Grande to take over Oceano’s allocation, Adams said.

Arroyo Grande voters would have to approve the purchase of state water before it could move ahead, per a measure the voters approved in 1990.

The purchase of groundwater would require agreements from Oceano, Grover Beach and Pismo Beach, because the four communities have shared a so-called gentlemen’s agreement on water distribution since 1983.

Buying the water would also require amending a 5-year-old settlement to a long-running lawsuit, which allocated water and water rights in the Santa Maria Valley, the Nipomo Mesa and other South County areas.

“We had preferred Lopez water because it would have been a much simpler process,” Adams said, “but given their board’s direction, we thought we should look at pursuing another source.”