Water

SLO County and Central Coast Water Authority seek agreement to address state water challenges | News | San Luis Obispo

For those who follow it, the Central Coast’s state water saga is frustrating.

When the State Water Project was first constructed in the 1960s, the San Luis Obispo County Flood Control District purchased annual rights to 25,000 acre-feet of water, an amount that served approximately 125,000 homes.

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With low water levels due to drought in local reservoirs like Lake Lopez, SLO County is studying how to bring more of the state's water supply to the area. - Jason Melom's profile photo

  • Jason Melom’s profile photo
  • low level With local reservoirs like Lake Lopez dwindling due to drought, SLO County is looking at how to bring more of the state’s water supply to the area.

Decades later, in the 1990s, when coastal branch infrastructure needed to be developed to pump state water from the Central Valley to the Central Coast, SLO County was paying only 4,830 acre-feet per year for delivery capacity, less than 20 percent of what it had .

“When do you let people say if they’re in or out? [of the Coastal Branch]because of the growth, there’s a lot of opposition to state water,” said Kate Ballantyne, now deputy director of public works for SLO County. “So they [SLO County] Only invest in infrastructure that we know people are willing to pay for. ”

The Central Coast Water Authority (CCWA) was more interested, and the Santa Barbara County water contractor ended up owning the infrastructure to bring the state water to the Central Coast and sharing it with SLO County. After the state water is treated at Polonio Pass near Shandon, CCWA delivers it to 24 state water contractors in two counties, including the cities of Morro Bay, Pismo Beach and Santa Maria.

CCWA says it can and wants to deliver more state water to the region. But it has no more rights. And SLO counties, due to their capacity versus supply, often leave available state water on the proverbial table. In good water years, when the county is lucky, it can store “carried over” state water in the St. Louis Reservoir for future use.

Ballantyne summed up the dilemma this way: “They [the CCWA] They usually have more capacity available then they have water to deliver. And we often have more water than we can deliver. ”

With the Central Coast facing another drought, SLO County and CCWA are trying to reach a deal they believe could help release more state water belonging to SLO County.

According to the draft agreement, which received conceptual approval from the SLO County Board of Supervisors on March 15, SLO County will allow CCWA to process and deliver 2,000 acre-feet of water storage capacity above its 4,830 acre-feet delivery capacity. As compensation, CCWA can use half of the water (1,000 acre-feet) for the Santa Barbara County community.

CCWA executive director Ray Stokes called the exchange “a win-win for both parties”.

“them [SLO County] For their benefit, we are looking to treat additional water at our water treatment plant,” Stokes said. “In exchange, they will provide us with additional water. So it’s a win-win. ”

Ballantyne agreed.

“There’s more water in both counties,” she said. “We couldn’t use it, it provided more water for our partners in the Central Coast division.”

This unprecedented agreement is only possible now thanks to a recent state policy change that gives state water contractors the flexibility to buy, sell or exchange water rights with each other to meet their needs.

“That’s really the only reason we can do it,” Stokes said. “We tried this a few years ago. The state water contracts at the time were so strict that California didn’t allow it.”

Officials at both agencies believe it could eventually serve as a blueprint for increasing the state’s water supply to the Central Coast in the future. CCWA and SLO County recently completed a joint study analyzing potential options for future collaboration.

“There will be more,” Ballantyne said. “This particular effort is a short-term drought mitigation strategy. Maximizing the use of state water is the Board’s top priority.”

As of this year, SLO County has 12,000 acre-feet of state water storage in the St. Louis Reservoir, roughly enough to serve 60,000 households for a year. The goal of the proposed partnership is to be able to deploy “extra” water faster without having to wait for limited county capacity.

State water stored in St. Louis Reservoir may “spill” or be lost in wet years, according to a recent joint study. This has happened in the past, resulting in a “lost opportunity”. Officials see more uncertainty about future state water storage.

The original 2,000 acre-feet agreement was “enough water to make an impact,” Ballantyne said. That’s true after the state announced on March 18 that it plans to provide only 5 percent of its state water allocation this year.

Ballantyne stressed that key to the state’s water moving forward is the positioning of the Central Coast to bring its supply to the region when it becomes available.

“The great thing about National Water is that it’s a geographically diverse source of water for us,” she said. “So when it’s not raining and it’s snowing locally, we can get water that we wouldn’t otherwise have. It’s great to have it when we need it.”

Local towns are watching the discussion with interest. Arroyo Grande is a city that is exploring the state’s water as a potential alternative source as the water level in the Lake Lopez reservoir dwindles.

According to Arroyo Grande City Manager Whitney MacDonald, the state’s water pipeline is currently connected to a water treatment and storage facility near Lopez, so getting that water will be a buy-and-delivery issue .

“We’re certainly interested in what the county is doing because it can actually provide us with extra water very quickly,” MacDonald said. “I think historically our region has been using water as a land use tool, trying to control development and excessive and fast-paced development by controlling water supply. I think people are starting to look at things differently. At one point, People here are starting to get hurt because we’re running out of water.” Δ

Assistant Editor Peter Johnson can be reached at pjohnson@newtimesslo.com.

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