With well levels on the Nipomo Mesa at all-time lows, the Nipomo Community Services District has stopped accepting applications for new water service within the district.
At the same time, the county is looking for ways to allow new development to move forward in areas of the Mesa outside district boundaries.
On Oct. 27, the county Board of Supervisors will consider a Countywide Water Conservation Plan. Among other provisions, the plan includes a proposal that would allow new development and new water demand on the Nipomo Mesa via 1-for-1 “offsets” obtained by changing water fixtures in existing homes to more efficient fixtures and removing lawn/turf areas.
Since 2005, the county has categorized Nipomo Mesa water resources to be in a Level III severity condition, the most severe.
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In 2005, the county adopted an ordinance to address the water shortage condition. That ordinance (2005-3090) requires all new urban water demand to be met by new imported water. Although the Nipomo CSD adopted this policy model and successfully implemented it within its services boundary, the county has not.
Water savings from offset programs are theoretical — there is no absolute way to determine actual water savings from such programs, nor is there a way to ensure those savings are permanent. Offsets should not be used as a means for allowing new development at a time when the goal should be to achieve permanent long-term reductions in the amount of water being pumped on the Nipomo Mesa.
There is an option: The county has 19,000 acre-feet of state water allocation that county taxpayers are paying for but not using.
The county should negotiate with other members of the Central Coast Water Authority — owners of the state water treatment plant and pipeline serving the Central Coast — to deliver some of this water.
This is a “political will” project — only minimal construction would be required.
Groundwater basins throughout the county are imperiled. Paper promises in the form of ordinances that are never fully implemented or water accounting schemes that guarantee new water demand but do not guarantee new water supply have not worked and will not work. It is time to put some of the 19,000 acre-feet of state water to work. It is time to get serious about long-term regional water supply planning.
Michael S. LeBrun is general manager of the Nipomo Community Services District.