Over the Hill

Why Paso didn’t get water grants

Why didn’t Paso Robles officials get federal or state grants to pay for the Nacimiento pipeline? If they got grants, they wouldn’t be trying now to raise our water rates so high.

A reader asked me that a few weeks ago. He said he’s never heard or read any news stories about city officials seeking such grants. If they had, he said, he’d vote for a water-rate increase.

That’s a fair question, so I phoned Paso Robles City Manager James App and asked him. He said he hears that question a lot and the answer is: The city has pursued grants from the beginning. So did the other local-government partners in the pipeline project. But, he said, no grants were available that the project could qualify for.

App said even our then-congressman, Bill Thomas, couldn’t get grants for the project, although he was chairman of the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee. He had delivered grants for earlier local projects, such as the Niblick Bridge, and the repairing or rebuilding of local government properties after the 2003 earthquake.

I also phoned Doug Monn, Paso Robles’ public works director. He said the planned new water-treatment plant also hasn’t qualified for any grants. And until it’s built, the city can’t use any of its Nacimiento water. The law requires lake water be treated before humans drink it.

But he’s still looking for grants. He went last month to a grant fair in Fresno. He said representatives were there from two federal departments and six state agencies, such as the Public Health Department, Energy Commission and Water Resources Board.

He said he visited each organization’s station and everyone told him no water-supply grants are now available for cities of Paso Robles’ size. He did find one possible reimbursement grant to plan a city-wide system for re-using recycled water. He plans to pursue that lead further because Paso Robles has adopted a city water plan based on three sources: well water, Nacimiento water and recycled water.

Monn said Paso Robles is constantly scouting for grants. For example it is applying to the office of our current congressman, Kevin McCarthy, for a $4.7 million grant to help with the planned upgrading of the city sewage treatment plant.

He also said the city has applied for a $150,000 state grant to convert the street lights in the library parking lot and downtown city park to LED lights. That could save $30,000 per year in operating costs.

He’s 90 percent sure of getting that. But of course, we must never take grants for granted.