Some in Oceano opposed to selling water

A contingent of concerned Oceano residents implored the local community services district board this week not to sell some of the town’s excess water — even though the agency’s leaders say doing so is needed to avoid steeper water rate increases and pay for capital improvements.

Several residents, calling Oceano’s water resources its “precious water supply” and its “future,” urged the board only to lease water on a temporary basis instead of selling it permanently. Others suggested the district should go to the voters to determine whether they want to sell water.

“The board is in the position to call the shots on this, so I’d like to see it done right,” said Betty Cary, who has lived in Oceano for seven years.

Those interested in purchasing water — including developers of two separate properties just outside the Pismo Beach city limits — want to do so on a permanent basis.

Whether the board will follow the urgings of a few dozen residents remains to be seen.

During a discussion about selling water to Arroyo Grande — the board did not take action to do so — board members appeared hesitant on moving forward quickly with a permanent sale to the city and questioned the worth of the various sources of Oceano’s water supply: state water, groundwater and Lopez Lake.

“We’re not pushing Oceano or wanting Oceano to sell any water that they feel they’d need in the future,” Arroyo Grande City Manager Steve Adams said. “However, if they make a decision to sell water, we’d like an opportunity to make a proposal on that.”

However, after a short break — and after most of the Oceano residents had left the meeting — the board voted 4-0 to continue negotiations for the permanent sale of 100 acre-feet of water with the developer of Los Robles del Mar. Board member Mary Lucey abstained from voting.

The vote upset the few residents who remained, who were surprised the board didn’t reconsider their decision to sell water after the public’s input.

The San Luis Obispo Local Agency Formation Commission, which has to approve annexations of city land, in 2008 denied Pismo Beach the Los Robles del Mar annexation because there wasn’t enough water to meet the needs of the proposed development, which included a private school, 60 senior citizen homes and 252 single-family homes.

Oceano has 1,953 acre-feet of water available each year, but uses only about 900 acre-feet a year. An acre-foot of water can serve several single-family homes for a year.

The estimated demand for future build out in Oceano is 1,175 acre-feet, according to a review of municipal services prepared by the Local Agency Formation Commission in 2003. The district has asked the county for clarification on that amount.

If Oceano moved ahead with the three sales of water that have been discussed — currently totaling 450 acre-feet — then the community, at build out, would be left with a surplus of about 330 acre-feet.

In the meantime, district officials have sent a petition to 2,180 Oceano property owners advising them of their intention to raise water and sewer rates and giving them a chance to protest the increases, district General Manager Raffaele Montemurro said. So far, 80 people have done so.

If more than 50 percent of the property owners protest the rates, the board would need to develop a new proposal.

Montemurro said the district paid the county $276 for mailing labels to send out the notices; however, the district did not make copies of the labels. He said he’ll verify the addresses if it appears a majority of property owners have returned protests.

New on the board

The Oceano Community Services District board unanimously appointed a new member Wednesday: Matthew Guerrero, an attorney who also owns a laundromat on Highway 1 in Oceano.

The other person who had applied to fill the vacancy created by former board member Vern Dahl’s election to the Lucia Mar school board, Lynn Pearson, withdrew her application, citing a potential conflict of interest.

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