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Los Osos basin management panel begins work

Los Osos residents are served by three water purveyors, Los Osos Community Services District, Golden State Water Co. and S&T Mutual, depending on where they live. The county uses water from the basin for park irrigation in the community.
Los Osos residents are served by three water purveyors, Los Osos Community Services District, Golden State Water Co. and S&T Mutual, depending on where they live. The county uses water from the basin for park irrigation in the community.

A committee faced with reversing the severe threat of saltwater intrusion that could permanently damage the water supply in Los Osos met for the first time Monday.

The newly formed Los Osos Basin Management Committee will be tasked with administering an estimated $34 million in infrastructure upgrades, including new wells, conservation efforts and water purification systems to address the problems facing the basin — a groundwater supply in a critical state of decline from overpumping and drought, the possibility of saltwater intrusion in a lower aquifer, and high concentrations of nitrates in an upper aquifer.

The committee is the result of more than a decade of litigation in San Luis Obispo Superior Court over water consumption and water rights. Superior Court Judge Martin Tangeman signed off on a settlement in October between three local water purveyors and the county, which draws water for park irrigation in the community.

The committee named four directors representing the agencies and an interim executive director.

The committee’s directors and the agencies they represent are: Supervisor Bruce Gibson (San Luis Obispo County), Marshall Ochylski (Los Osos Community Services District), Mark Zimmer (Golden State Water Company) and Bill Garfinkel (S&T Mutual Water Company). The interim executive director is Rob S. Miller, a principal engineer with the Wallace Group.

“I see this committee as a working group involving the community and technical consultants, taking input from all of the parties,” said Ochyslki, the committee chairman. “I think we’ll move quickly now that the stipulated judgement is in effect.”

The committee directed Miller to develop a plan for implementing key steps, including creating:

  • an annual budget.
  • a conflict of interest code.
  • a grant funding plan.
  • a committee website.
  • committee rules and regulations.

The committee also will consider exploring the basin’s boundaries for possible change, allocating up to $20,000 for an effort coordinated by county staff, led by Ray Diezno of the county’s Water Resources Technical Unit Division. They’ll review precisely what the parameters of the basin should be under state Department of Water Resources regulations, using updated scientific data to correct outdated mapping.

The lawsuit over water consumption and water rights, filed by the Los Osos Community Services District 11 years ago against Southern California Water Co. (which changed its name to Golden State Water Co. in 2005), the county and S&T, reached an approved settlement in October.

The precise funding mechanisms still need to be worked out, but much of the cost of basin management and infrastructure will be borne by residents and businesses as water suppliers raise rates to cover expenses.

Some of the local residents who spoke at Monday’s meeting urged the committee to keep costs down as much as possible, particularly because the community will soon be strapped with payments for a new sewage treatment system due to go online next year. The assessment, expected to begin in mid-2016, is an estimated $165 per month.

“This community is short on time and money,” Los Osos resident Jeff Edwards said. “We ought to scale the approach and cost accordingly.”

Edwards also posed several questions related to the function of the new committee, asking the board to define what its working relationship is with the county on the sewer project, whether it will have the power of eminent domain, and whether it will be eligible for public grant money considering Golden State is a private entity, which precludes that business from certain public financing.

Ochylski directed Miller to research answers to questions from the public and respond to those in future public meetings.

The next committee meeting was scheduled for Jan. 5 at 1:30 p.m. at the South Bay Community Center at 2180 Palisades Ave. A regular meeting schedule for the committee hasn’t been established, though the group will meet at least once per month.

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