Nipomo district puts water pipeline process in motion

Nipomo Mesa residents could vote as soon as March whether to increase their property taxes to pay for construction of a pipeline to bring water from Santa Maria.

The Nipomo Community Services District board voted Wednesday to move ahead with the process to create an assessment district to fund the estimated $25.3 million capital cost of the pipeline.

The board also agreed that the cost of the actual water delivered from Santa Maria would be covered through water rate hikes — a separate process in which local residents affected by the rate increase would have a chance to vote against it.

District officials hope to send out letters in January to about 6,600 property owners of about 9,000 parcels on the Nipomo Mesa. The letters will outline the proposed property tax assessment and give people time to review and respond.

The assessment rate would vary depending on each parcel’s size, zoning, current use and potential for future development. District staff and consultants are currently updating the cost projections for construction as well as the proposed assessments for each parcel.

If property owners approve the assessment district — which would require the majority of the votes cast to be in favor — construction could start as soon as September and finish in February 2014, said district General Manager Michael LeBrun.

While the costs to individual customers will vary widely, district officials released estimates for an “average” customer of the Nipomo Community Services District — defined as someone living on a .35-acre or smaller residential lot with one home, who uses 40 units of water, or 29,920 gallons, every two months. 

The district estimates that specific customers could be asked to pay a $103 annual property tax assessment and an extra $12 a month for water. A 15 percent water rate increase would also be proposed for two additional years.

District officials say the pipeline is needed to reduce the community’s dependence on an underground aquifer — its only source of water — and to prevent saltwater intrusion, which is the pollution of a freshwater aquifer by seawater creeping underground and moving inland. 

The plan has garnered opposition from some residents, many of whom are part of a group called Mesa Community Alliance. They have raised concerns over the project’s overall cost and reliability of the Santa Maria water.

The project is also required by a 2005 court settlement over water rights in the Santa Maria groundwater basin, which includes the Five Cities area, Nipomo and Santa Maria.

The three other water purveyors on the Mesa — Golden State Water Co., Rural Water Co. and Woodlands Mutual Water Co. — also agreed to purchase a portion of the Santa Maria water. The pipeline could immediately connect to the Golden State and Woodlands water companies, but Rural Water Co. would have to build a pipeline to tap into the new supply.

Customers of the other water purveyors are included in the assessment district, but it will be up to the individual companies to raise rates to cover their share of the water costs.

During Wednesday’s meeting, board member Mike Winn suggested that the assessment district vote could have a better chance of passing if Rural Water Co. customers, some of whom oppose the project, were excluded.

He proposed that the district produce two cost analyses for the assessment district: one with the four water purveyors and one with only three — a process that would inevitably add more time to the project.

But, Winn added, “We can hurry up and fail or we can do it right and succeed.”

However, his motion failed on a 2-3 vote, with board President Jim Harrison joining Winn in support, and board members Dan Gaddis, Ed Eby and Larry Vierheilig opposed.