One Los Osos well is in danger, not the entire basin
March 17, 2015
OPINION By JULIE TACKER
Henny Penny (aka Chicken Little) once said, “The sky is falling; the sky is falling.” The phrase has become a common idiom indicating a hysterical or mistaken belief that disaster is imminent. The front page special report on the Los Osos groundwater situation in the weekend edition of the local paper (aka Tribune) screams, “The ocean is coming; the ocean is coming!”
The article states, “The rate of seawater intrusion could render the basin’s lower aquifer unusable in five years, according to a recently released updated plan to sustain the community’s only water resource.”
Nowhere in the 332 page document referred to does it say that. Perhaps, the idea came from a seawater intrusion study released this past fall that identifies one well, next to the library, in the community’s system that could be inundated by seawater in the next five years. It has long been the plan to shut down that well entirely. Coincidentally, the library well is down now and hopefully will not be brought back online.
It is not my intent to diminish the importance of seawater intrusion. It is a longstanding serious issue for Los Osos. It is a slow-going natural disaster that has all of us concerned. The rate of intrusion varies on water levels and aquifer permeability. Intrusion has not been uniform over these last 30 years, with seasonal pumping cycles we would expect it to accelerate during drought.
Intrusion is unpredictable as it follows preferential pathways along sand and gravel – the path of least resistance– layers tapped by pumping wells. Seawater is heavier than freshwater and without rain to hold the ocean back the seawater has advanced.
Action must be taken to replace this well. Consistent with the basin plan programs, one or more new wells must be installed in the easterly portion of the community and an intertie established between the Los Osos Community Services District and Golden State Water Company delivery systems.
The weekend article quotes elected officials including County Supervisor Gibson, Los Osos CSD President, Mike Wright, Los Osos CSD Director, Chuck Cesena, Los Osos CSD General Manager, Kathy Kivley, and a couple of well-intentioned citizens who speak to their personal water conservation efforts. The reporter failed to speak with either the district’s engineer or expert hydrologist to get an accurate picture of the state-of-the-basin for his article.
Mistakenly, attention to the basin has been overshadowed by the 30-year, $183 million sewer project battle that does little to address seawater intrusion.
When the county took the helm of the sewer project in 2007, they uncoupled water from wastewater — distancing them from the responsibility associated with basin management and seawater intrusion. Instead of embracing the challenge and the vast funding resources available for the sewer project, the blame for seawater intrusion was shifted to purveyors for “over pumping.”
Amazingly, Supervisor Gibson and (then) Public Works Director, Paavo Ogren, deflected blame for basin mismanagement. It is ironic, the county ran the water company for decades as CSA-9A , the predecessor of the LOCSD, but, takes no blame for their own over pumping of the exact same wells drawing in seawater today.
Now, as Los Osos residents face high costs associated with the sewer, they also face rising water rates to cover the infrastructure projects that were once contemplated as part of the wastewater project.
Basin management is paramount; the purveyors and the county have been talking about it, litigating it, pointing fingers and doing very little about it. It’s time to stop all the paper pushing, turn off that suspect well and begin to implement the strategies we can agree on. The basin has more than five years, but if we intend to meet future demands in the basin, we need to start management implementation now.
The best approach to understanding the complexities of Los Osos issues is education; not “sky is falling” scare tactics and misinformation which appears to be all that the Tribune is capable of.