South County water projects to be considered

As the South County continues to face a water crisis, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors will discuss two large supplemental water projects this week when it holds a study session on emergency water supply options.

The two options to be discussed are a Pismo Beach sewage reclamation project that could add treated wastewater to the aquifer and the expansion of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant desalination facility so it can serve local communities.

Years of drought have caused precipitous drops in the South County’s main water source, Lopez Lake, as well as dwindling aquifers and unreliable deliveries from the State Water Project pipeline.

This prompted the South County’s water advisory committee to send a letter to the county Board of Supervisors in September outlining the crisis and asking for the study session.

“We have to move expediently to identify emergency supplies and improve overall regional water supply reliability,” said Paavo Ogren, chairman of the advisory committee.

The two-hour study session is the only business item on the board’s Tuesday agenda.

A proposed expansion of Diablo Canyon’s desalination plant has the potential to produce the most new water — as much as 1,000 acre-feet a year. The reverse osmosis plant is the only source of water for the nuclear power plant, but it could be expanded to produce the additional 1,000 acre-feet.

A 7-mile pipeline would have to be installed to connect the plant to the Lopez Lake pipeline. A feasibility study is being conducted on the project with a report due to supervisors on March 22, said Mark Hutchinson, deputy director of County Public Works.

Another project in the works that could produce nearly 700 acre-feet of water is the Pismo Beach sewage reclamation project. The treated, recycled wastewater would be injected into the ground to increase groundwater supplies. That project has become a regional one, with other cities in the area collaborating with Pismo Beach. Construction on that project could begin next year and finish at the end of 2018.

South County faces a serious water crisis, Hutchinson said. Lopez Lake is at 29 percent of capacity. Saltwater intrusion into the Santa Maria groundwater basin began in 2009. That has forced water purveyors to reduce their pumping to 30 percent of their entitlements.

And, low reservoir levels in Northern California prompted state officials to limit deliveries from the State Water Project to 5 percent in 2014 and 2015.

If drought conditions persist for another two years, levels in Lopez Lake would get so low that no water would be available, Hutchinson said. That would leave the South County reliant on its other two tenuous water sources.

“If either one of those fails, we could get to the point that health and safety needs could not be met,” he said.