Over the Hill

Paso Robles’ access to Nacimiento water was a turbulent process

Phil Dirkx
Phil Dirkx jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

All levels of our government seem to be haphazardly organized chaos. That includes local government.

An example of that was reported in Tuesday’s edition of The Tribune under the headline, “Nacimiento water flows to Paso taps.” It said we Paso Roblans are now finally able to use Nacimiento Lake water, which we’ve been paying for since 2012.

This story really goes back to 1954, when Monterey County officials started talking seriously about building a dam on the Nacimiento River in San Luis Obispo County. A former county official once told me that, in the beginning, Monterey County was willing to share Nacimiento Lake evenly with our county, both in water and in costs.

But San Luis Obispo County officials weren’t interested. One county supervisor reportedly said, “We don’t need the water.” Another county official seemed to like the idea of a Nacimiento Lake built and paid for by Monterey County, “… with this county reaping the recreational and tourist benefits.”

In April 1955, Monterey County voters approved a $7 million bond issue to build the Nacimiento Dam. Its holding capacity was estimated at 350,000 acre-feet. Nobody from this county protested against our loss of so much water. (The lake’s actual capacity turned out to be 377,900 acre-feet.)

But after a few months, people started to realize how much water our county had lost. County officials hired an engineering consultant, who recommended filing for rights to the San Antonio River in Monterey County. Both counties quickly filed for those rights. That fight ended in 1959 with San Luis Obispo County getting the exclusive right to 17,500 acre-feet of water per year from Nacimiento Lake.

So then in 1962, the county proposed building a pipeline from Nacimiento Lake to a point west of Templeton and building two dams nearby. Voters rejected that project’s $12.5 million bond issue. Again, in 1974, voters rejected a $31.4 million bond issue for a pipeline from Nacimiento Lake to Paso Robles, Templeton, Atascadero, Morro Bay and Los Osos.

But finally in October 2007, construction began on the Nacimiento pipeline that now serves Paso Robles, Templeton, Atascadero, San Luis Obispo and part of Cayucos. It cost $176 million and was completed in 2010. But still we Paso Roblans never got to drink water from it until last month.

That was because Paso Robles had no water treatment plant. To finance the building of one, the city would have to raise its water rates. Opponents of the rate increase used petitions, protests and lawsuits to delay it. Construction of the treatment plant finally started in May 2014.

This Nacimiento farce is a dreary example of our haphazard, disorganized system of government, but it’s still better than any of the known alternative systems.

Phil Dirkx’s column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Paso Robles for more than five decades, and his column appears here every week. Reach Dirkx at 238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.

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