SLO getting water from Nacimiento

After decades of planning, the Nacimiento Water Project is finally flowing: Water from the lake is now coming out of faucets in San Luis Obispo. The lake northwest of Paso Robles will now serve as San Luis Obispo’s main water source — the equivalent of 1.1 billion gallons of water annually. The city also gets additional water from Santa Margarita Lake and Whale Rock Reservoir through separate projects.

The city is the first to treat and use water from Nacimiento Lake after the completion of the 45-mile, $176 million pipeline — the county’s largest public works project. The pipeline will carry millions of gallons of water from the lake to Paso Robles, Atascadero, Templeton, San Luis Obispo and part of Cayucos.

“Future city water supplies are critical — everyone is facing water shortages and this city is positioned very well and into the future to have a reliable water supply,” said Gary Henderson, San Luis Obispo’s water division manager. “This is a huge achievement.”

Henderson, who has worked for the city for 27 years, said he spent the first two decades of his career seeking additional supplies for the city.

“This is absolutely the biggest accomplishment of my career,” Henderson said. Water from the Nacimiento Water Project was treated at San Luis Obispo’s water treatment plant for the first time last week — starting with a flow of about 1 million gallons. City workers have since been working to fine-tune the process.

Each water source is treated differently depending on silt levels, algae and other components inherent to the source, Henderson said.

“Treating a new blend of water is challenging,” said Henderson, “but we are now meeting all state and federal regulations, and the water is flowing.”

The water treatment plant is now processing more than 3 million gallons per day of project water.

The city treats about 2.2 billion gallons of water annually, said Dean Furukawa, plant supervisor. The 1.1 billion gallons of water from Nacimiento Lake will be used each year, and supplemented mainly from Santa Margarita Lake to meet the city’s needs.

Furukawa said residents shouldn’t notice a lot of change in the water, but it might seem a little softer as the treatment process is refined.

The remaining communities in the Nacimiento project — except for Paso Robles — will begin using the water later this year.

San Luis Obispo and Atascadero are paying for their respective shares through user rate increases. Atascadero paid some of its debt up front, and Cayucos already paid for its entire share. Meanwhile, Templeton plans to pay its debt through selling water meters for new construction.

Paso Robles is the only entity among the five that doesn’t have an established way to pay back the county, which sold bonds to fund the project. As a result of not yet securing sufficient revenue to pay the debt, the city doesn’t have the money to build a treatment plant for its annual share of 4,000 acre-feet. That means city water users are paying for water they can’t drink until the treatment plant is built.

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.