Nipomo urges water customers to cut usage by 30 percent

Officials in Nipomo kicked off a campaign this week asking residents to voluntarily reduce their water use by 30 percent, but are holding off on drought-related rate increases that they initially planned to have in place this summer.

Now, Nipomo Community Services District officials expect hearings will be held on those rate increases this fall. A separate annual rate increase of 9.8 percent will start in November.

As water use increases during the dry summer months and low groundwater levels remain a constant concern, officials are anxiously asking residents to save water.

“A new appeal for Nipomo,” reads the headline of a news release posted on the district’s website this week. Then, in all caps: “REDUCE YOUR USE.”

“We have a long dry summer ahead,” district General Manager Michael LeBrun said Thursday. “We can only hope for El Niño next winter, but we must plan … on another dry winter, and be prepared.”

He said the district aims to reduce its groundwater pumping by 30 percent. While officials are asking customers to try to reduce by the same amount, they recognize that many residents already have taken steps to cut water use.

The services district board has yet to approve rate increases that could be put into place during a severe drought to encourage more conservation and reduce groundwater pumping.

The district’s water pumping fell 25 percent in April as compared to April 2013, and was lower than a five-year average from 2009-13, according to a report from the district’s engineer. Pumping in May also was lower than a five-year average, but the amount of water being used is creeping up, mostly due to an increase in outdoor watering.

Besides the ongoing drought, local officials are particularly concerned because Nipomo has one source of water — an enormous underground aquifer that serves parts of southern San Luis Obispo and northern Santa Barbara counties.

Other users on the Nipomo Mesa include other water purveyors, the Phillips 66 oil refinery, and about 1,000 private wells.

LeBrun said water use has been climbing for decades, exceeding the available supply. The district has been operating under a Stage 2 drought condition since spring 2008, meaning that a potentially severe water shortage exists.

In April, the Nipomo district board approved a water shortage response plan that outlines specific actions the district could take if the groundwater basin falls to extremely low levels or there’s evidence of seawater intrusion. The plan includes possible drought-related rate increases, which the board initially thought would be in place this summer.

The board would have to declare a Stage 3 severe water shortage condition and vote to implement the rates before they would go into effect.

However, board members decided it would be better to couple the drought rate increases with an increase that would pay for the cost of supplemental water that the Nipomo district has agreed to purchase from Santa Maria, LeBrun said.

The cost of that water, which would be delivered through a pipeline, is being shared with the other water purveyors on the Mesa. Nipomo board members chose to wait until those sales agreements are final before they determine how to spread the rest of the cost to district customers.

Rate hearings could be held in September and October.

Nipomo district customers also are in the midst of an annual rollout of rate increases approved in 2011, with water rates scheduled to increase 9.8 percent this November and in November 2015. Whatever action the board takes on additional rate hikes would be on top of the existing increases, officials said.

Any actions imposed by the district board would apply only to the district’s customers, which include about 12,000 people and 40 businesses.

Summer water-saving tips: 

Nipomo Community Services District officials suggest using more drought-tolerant plants in your yard, checking for plumbing and irrigation leaks, watering before 9 a.m. and after 8 p.m., and not using water to wash down driveways and cars. For more tips, click here