Editorial: Haste could make waste for Oceano

At a time when many California communities are scrambling to find new water supplies, Oceano is in the enviable position of having water to spare. Still, we can understand why some residents are concerned about a proposal to permanently sell a portion of that water for two developments just outside Pismo Beach.

Any decision now could have major ramifications in the future, if it leaves the community with an inadequate supply of water for growth that could be coming 20, 30 or 40 years from now.

A small group of Oceano residents recently circulated a petition to require the Community Services District to seek voter approval of any permanent water sale. The fact that petition gatherers were able to collect more than 500 signatures in less than a week indicates that many in the community are leery about the prospect of a sale.

Community Services District officials say the proposed sale of 300 acre feet of water would generate revenue for capital improvements and spare the community from steep water rate increases. (An acre foot generally serves two to five households per year, depending on landscaping, location and family size.)

While we believe officials owe it to ratepayers to keep costs as affordable as possible, we wonder why the district went so long —13 years — without raising water rates. Had it passed small increases every two or three years, it could have built up reserves and possibly avoided the situation it now faces.

Before the district agrees to any permanent sale, it’s critical that officials have up-to-date, accurate information. They must know how much water the community can count on during a worst-case scenario of a prolonged drought. They also need to know how much growth the community can reasonably expect and how much water it will ultimately need.

While some of that information is available, there are conflicts that need to be resolved.

By one estimate, the community’s three water sources — state water, groundwater and Lopez Lake — can yield nearly 2,000 acre feet of water per year. Yet the district’s own water master plan questions the reliability of state water, and puts that figure somewhat lower, at 1,500 acre feet. (The community currently uses around 900 acre feet per year.)

There also is some disagreement about how much water the community will eventually need. One study says 1,175 acre feet, and another is projecting 1,419 acre feet.

Faced with conflicting reports, the district would do well to slow down, gather more data and carefully analyze the options before committing to any permanent sale.

The community of Oceano showed excellent foresight years ago in signing on for a generous supply of water. It shouldn’t squander that now.