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SLO officials say water supply secure, despite drought

San Luis Obispo’s deputy director of utilities, Aaron Floyd, answers questions from the public at Thursday’s community water forum.
San Luis Obispo’s deputy director of utilities, Aaron Floyd, answers questions from the public at Thursday’s community water forum. nwilson@thetribunenews.com

The El Niño storm conditions may not have delivered the rainfall the community hoped for to replenish water supplies and relieve concern about the future of water availability. But even if drought conditions continue, San Luis Obispo city officials say the community’s multisourced water supply is sufficient to proceed with proposed new development that’s expected to increase population from about 45,000 to nearly 57,000 by the year 2035.

The city held a community water forum Thursday night at the Ludwick Community Center to provide information and answer questions on a wide range of water issues, as yet another year of below-level rainfall is likely.

You will not turn on the tap and not have water come out.

Aaron Floyd, city deputy director of utilities

The forum touched on topics related to the drought, climate change, water conservation methods, the city’s water portfolio and the sufficiency of water for new development.

“The drought isn’t over and it’s important for us to be sharing information with the concerned public and explain everything that we’re doing for a water secure future,” said Michael Codron, the city’s community development director.

The city’s three primary water sources — Nacimiento Lake, Whale Rock Reservoir and Salinas Reservoir — are at less than half their capacity, a stark reminder that the water supply warrants monitoring, officials said. Current water levels are:

▪  Nacimiento Lake (377,900 acre-feet of capacity) is 34.5 percent full.

▪  Whale Rock Reservoir (38,967 acre-feet of capacity) is 36 percent full.

▪  Salinas Reservoir (23,843 acre-feet of capacity) is 13.5 percent full.

The city has contractual rights to use water from those sources, including 5,482 acre-feet per year of Nacimiento’s supply. The city has been using about 4,900 acre-feet of that allocated amount. San Luis Obispo isn’t in any immediate danger of losing the security of that water.

“You will not turn on the tap and not have water come out,” said Aaron Floyd, the city’s deputy director of utilities. “Our water future is secure.”

An issue that came up repeatedly during the forum in questions from the community was why the city is considering development proposals for 720 homes at Avila Ranch on Buckley Road and Vachell Lane and another proposed 500 homes at San Luis Obispo Ranch between Madonna Road and Highway 101 (long known as Dalidio Ranch).

“Why would you even be considering building any new homes?” asked audience member David Brodie. “Why not wait until the planning is done before allowing any development to move forward?

The city is using modeling that projects how much water is needed if population growth takes place as planned, calculating worst case scenarios of low rainfall years and evaporation due to climate change.

The single easiest and quickest way to reduce water use is to reduce outdoor irrigation, specifically turf irrigation.

City of SLO on water conservation

The city also is in the process of updating the city’s Urban Water Management Plan and Water Shortage Contingency Plan.

“(The city’s staff) will return to the council in June to discuss the various elements of that plan and staff recommendations, which could include some form of (a building) moratorium included in the laundry list of mandatory conservation requirements, should the city face critical water shortage conditions,” the city wrote in a separate response to a written question on the issue.

Floyd added that a building moratorium would only occur in a situation where the city’s health and safety was at risk. But city officials said San Luis Obispo plans very conservatively and its multisourced water supply is much broader than communities that only have one water source, such as groundwater.

The city limits the growth of new homes to 1 percent each year, and averages a growth rate of about 0.36 percent, Codron said.

Efforts to save water in the city of San Luis Obispo have shown results, including the registration of roughly 20,000 low-flow toilets in the city of about 30,000 toilets, encouraged by efforts such as rebate programs and development offsets over the past several years. The city believes the remaining 10,000 mostly are low-flow toilets that haven’t been registered.

Conservation efforts can help save more water through the use of graywater and rainwater collection systems, as well as drip irrigation, among other mindful landscaping practices.

“The single easiest and quickest way to reduce water use is to reduce outdoor irrigation, specifically turf irrigation,” the city said in its written responses to several questions, now posted on the city’s website. “This can be done by upgrading to smart irrigation controllers, replacing turf with drought tolerant landscaping, and by replacing worn and outdated sprinklers.”

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