Committee ranks pipeline as best way to bring more water to Nipomo

A pipeline that would carry hundreds of thousands of gallons of water to Nipomo from Santa Maria topped a list of projects analyzed by a volunteer committee convened by the Nipomo Community Services District.

For about six months, the Supplemental Water Evaluation Alternatives Committee studied possible ways to bring more water to the Mesa, from desalination to conservation to buying state water. It released a final draft of its report on Wednesday.

The committee’s ranking aligns with district plans to build a pipeline from Santa Maria to Nipomo — a project the district continued working on while the committee met. Property owners rejected a similar pipeline project last year.

The district has put the first phase of a revised pipeline project out to bid and could award a contract in April. Board members could still change course once they have time to study the report, but that’s unlikely with the pipeline project ranked at the top of the list.

Local officials maintain that Nipomo needs another source of water to reduce the community’s dependency on an underground aquifer — its only source of water.

The committee operated independently from the district to determine if the agency should continue to pursue the pipeline project, or instead focus on other alternatives, such as desalination or buying state water.

The group was formed after Nipomo property owners rejected a property tax increase to pay for a $26 million pipeline project last May.

The committee didn’t recommend specific projects; instead, it studied 29 alternatives and then ranked them based on an 18-point scoring system.

Goals included finding a water source that could deliver 1,000 acre-feet of water by 2015 and eventually increase to 6,200 acre-feet a year. An acre-foot generally serves one to two households a year.

Timing, reliability and costs were also considered.

The group developed several general recommendations, including a suggestion that the district and other water purveyors and users press for a complete study of the Santa Maria groundwater basin, pursue additional regional partnerships and incorporate water conservation in any project or program.

“Clearly these recommendations aren’t things that just NCSD can tackle alone,” said committee member Sam Saltoun, suggesting that the district work with other cities and San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties on solutions.

“We all share the same precious water resources,” he added. “We also have a common goal, and that’s a safe and secure water supply that we can pass on to the next generation and doesn’t break the bank for ours.”

Some of the report’s conclusions may surprise local residents who have wondered why Nipomo can’t tap into the State Water Project, which supplies water to many of its neighboring cities and communities.

Obtaining state water ranked low on the list partly because of the massive cost involved. To get unused water from San Luis Obispo County, the district would have to pay for a new pipeline to deliver it from the Central Valley — 83 miles at an estimated $300 million cost — because the county only paid for the pipeline capacity it needed at the time.

The cost to access state water used by Santa Barbara County communities comes to about $120 million, the committee found.

Meanwhile, several other ideas also rose to the top of the list, including conservation and brackish water desalination.

“There’s a lot of water out there that we’re not grabbing up, and this shows that,” Nipomo board member Bob Blair said. “And it shows maybe different ways we can combine two to three of these to get the solution we need without overburdening the ratepayers.”

Nipomo district board members and the public now have a chance to read the report, ask questions and provide comments. The supplemental water committee plans to answer questions and release a final report in mid-March.

Also on Wednesday, the district board took a step toward reversing a policy set last year that suspended the processing of all new applications for water service.

The board voted 4-1, with board member Larry Vierheilig dissenting, to bring an ordinance back to the board for a public hearing on March 13. If approved, the district would immediately return to processing applications.

Vierheilig said he voted against doing so because he first wants to be certain that the pipeline project moves ahead.

Read the report

To read the Supplemental Water Alternatives Evaluation Committee report, go to http://ncsd.ca.gov/cm/News_and_Info/Citizens%20Evaluation%20Committee.html.