Cities call on Nipomo water district to be more aggressive about conserving

Officials in three South County cities, concerned about over-taxing the Santa Maria groundwater basin, have asked Nipomo Mesa water purveyors to limit pumping and consider mandatory water rationing or other aggressive conservation measures.

In a letter to the Nipomo Community Services District dated Oct. 1, the city managers of Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach and Pismo Beach wrote that an expanded pumping depression in one part of the basin has reversed a groundwater flow pattern and created conditions favorable to seawater intrusion.

They requested the Nipomo district and other water purveyors on the Mesa stop approving new water connections, deliver a new source of water to the Mesa, and provide better public education programs “to help the public understand this crisis and how they can help.”

In a response to the cities on Oct. 13, Nipomo services district General Manager Michael LeBrun wrote that the district is already pursuing all of those suggestions.

On Wednesday, the Nipomo district board will discuss the cities’ letter and LeBrun’s response. The issue is one of several water-related items on the board’s agenda – including a request for water service for new homes proposed at Blacklake Golf Resort.

Resort owner Rob Rossi has requested water, sewer and trash service for 96 single-family bungalows, 119 hotel units, 11 timeshare units and 52 retirement village units.

Rossi said in an earlier interview that water demand for the project would be offset by plans to rip up 30 to 40 acres of turf. He also plans to buy supplemental water from the Nipomo district to serve the new homes.

Stage 2 since 2008

The Nipomo Mesa has one source of water – an enormous underground aquifer that stretches from southern San Luis Obispo County into northern Santa Barbara County.

The Nipomo district provides water to about 12,000 people and 40 businesses, but it is far from the only water user on the Mesa. Other users include water purveyors Golden State Water Co., Rural Water Co. and Woodlands Mutual Water Co.; the Phillips 66 oil refinery; and about 1,000 private wells.

Since spring 2008, the Nipomo district has been operating under a Stage 2 condition, meaning that a potentially severe water shortage exists. In July, the district kicked off a campaign asking residents to voluntarily reduce their use of water by 30 percent.

The district board in summer 2012 put a moratorium on new water hookups after local property owners voted against paying $26 million to build a water pipeline from Santa Maria. The moratorium was lifted in March 2013 after the district started moving ahead with a revised project to construct the pipeline in phases.

Steps taken

In their Oct. 1 letter, the three city managers – Steve Adams of Arroyo Grande, Bob Perrault of Grover Beach and Jim Lewis of Pismo Beach – urge the Nipomo district to stop making commitments for new water service (referred to as “will-serve” letters).

“If the NCSD and your water purveyor partners are unwilling to take more aggressive steps to protect this critical regional resource, the cities … will pursue all other avenues to protect our adjudicated interests in the basin,” the letter states.

A copy of the letter was also sent to the Golden State and Woodlands water companies and Phillips 66, as well as the county and the Oceano Community Services District.

LeBrun shot back in an Oct. 13 email to the city managers that the district has only made 120 acre-feet worth of water commitments since January 2008 (an acre-foot is equal to about 326,000 gallons).

The agency’s $17.5 million project to build a pipeline and buy water from Santa Maria is on track, with water deliveries scheduled to start next July, he wrote, which will eventually deliver 3,000 acre feet of water a year.

In addition, LeBrun wrote that the district has conducted extensive public outreach and is nearly meeting its goal to reduce groundwater pumping by 30 percent. Pumping decreased by 19 percent in August compared to August 2013, and 21 percent in September compared to September 2013, district data shows.

In addition, treated wastewater from one of the district’s treatment plants is percolated back into the groundwater basin. In 2013, 634 acre feet of water was put back into the ground through disposal basins next to the plant, LeBrun said.