Over the Hill

How would you solve SLO County's water problems?

Phil Dirkx
Phil Dirkx jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

We’re all waiting for El Niño like little kids waiting for Santa Claus. We’re hoping El Niño will solve our water shortage, but it won’t. It may signal the end of this drought but nothing more because we’ll still be pumping more water from our wells than our rainfall can replace.

We need common sense thinking about water. And we recently got some from San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Frank Mecham of Paso Robles. It was in the Aug. 29 Tribune. He listed five measures. He said, if combined, they “would solve our water problems far into the future.”

One solution was to desalinate seawater. After all, the Pacific Ocean licks one edge of our county. Mecham suggested forming a partnership with PG&E to use the unused capacity of the company’s desalination plant at the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant.

He further said that if the plant were expanded it could produce enough good water to supply a sizable area of this county. But it would cost money, of course.

Another solution, he said, was already happening. The communities who are partners in the Nacimiento Pipeline Project are in the process of acquiring the pipeline’s entire remaining uncommitted water. That will add 6,000 acre-feet per year to our county’s available water.

If the Nacimiento partner communities can’t use all that water themselves they might sell some to nearby farmers or rural communities. Of course, someone would have to provide the necessary pipelines.

Another Mecham solution is the Salinas Dam. That’s the official name of the dam at Santa Margarita Lake. Its original plans in 1941 called for a 19-foot-tall gate in its spillway, but none was ever installed.

He said if such a gate were installed, it would double the amount of water the dam can contain. The added water could go to the northern and southern parts of the county, Mecham said.

Another solution he mentioned was reclaimed water. For example, the nearly completed Paso Robles sewage treatment plant will produce 2,000 to 4,000 acre-feet per year of reclaimed water. It could irrigate athletic fields, golf courses or farms.

His fifth suggestion was to establish catch basins to hold back storm water in appropriate locations where it could slowly percolate into the ground.

You may agree or disagree with Mecham’s proposed solutions to our county’s water problems. But no one can doubt that our county will endure more droughts in the future. We just don’t know if they’ll be shorter or longer or drier or hotter.

If you disagree with Mecham’s solutions, I’d love to hear yours. We can’t depend on El Niño to supply adequate water in the future. There is no cheap solution, but doing nothing will cost more.