One Los Osos well is in danger, not the entire basin

March 17, 2015
Julie Tacker

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.



  1. wolfhound says:

    Most would agree that we need to delve a little deeper into understanding seawater intrusion
    in our water basin to be proactive and dispel some commonly held assumptions.

    The big problem with getting data from wells, is that we’re only getting data from one specific point and ‘assuming’ the major portion of our basin’s coastline.

    There is a much better way to map our basin coastline than drilling wells, at a fraction of the cost, as they are doing in Monterey Bay using ‘electrical resistivity tomography’.

    Check out the article by Stanford Woods Institute for Environment headed “A New Way to See Saltwater Intrusion Into Groundwater”.

    Rosemary Night also has a video available online with same heading which is very informative, also another one titled “Mapping Saltwater threat to Aquifers.

    (2) 2 Total Votes - 2 up - 0 down
  2. Pelican1 says:

    Julie, you have only yourself and your fellow Lemmings for the disaster you have created for Los Osos.

    (12) 18 Total Votes - 15 up - 3 down
    • jimmy_me says:

      What? I’m not seeing who the lemmings are here. A majority of Los Osos voters supported the recall. Julie and crew did what a majority the voters wanted. I’m not seeing where the lemmings are.

      But the people of Los Osos needed to be taught a lesson. Since it was obvious that a majority of Los Osos voters would never support a sewer, the power that be had to change the game plan. The threatened to fine the city out of existence. They sent out CDOs to a few residents. Then they held an election that was not anonymous. Of course they got their way under those conditions. Los Osos residents were so scared, they even signed a blank check on the project. Wow!

      I don’t see any lemmings here, but I do see many people who changed their vote out of fear. But then again, I’m really afraid also. There are still many problems and the only solutions that are considered are the ones that require Los Osos residents to cough up more money. I’m really scared. If lemmings are fearful, then I must be a lemming.

      (-3) 13 Total Votes - 5 up - 8 down
      • Vagabond says:

        But you have to be specific here, the powers that be (The water board) were the ones claiming that LO would never vote for a sewer the truth is a majority of Los Osos voters DID vote for a sewer every time.
        1st vote was for the creation of the LOCSD and A “Cheaper,better, faster” SEWER
        ( Too bad the “Cheaper, Better, Faster” sewer they were promised was never going to be approved )
        The recall election was for a SEWER out of town. And that’s what they are getting.

        (2) 6 Total Votes - 4 up - 2 down
  3. SLO_Johnny says:

    Direct water injection is the best approach to the problems in the water basin. Orange County supplies 50% of its water using that method. Water is pumped out of the creeks and injected deep underground during storm surges when it rains. The best place to store water is underground; there is no need for dams or reservoirs. The water is distributed without pipes. This method is being used in many locations around the world, like India.

    (5) 7 Total Votes - 6 up - 1 down
    • JMO says:

      Its not quite that easy. Orange County injects treated waste water that’s treated to drinking water level. You don’t want to inject storm water runoff without treating it first. If you inject polluted water into the groundwater you make the problem worse not better. If you let storm water percolate to the ground water you have natural filtration. And, by the way, the cost to Orange County was over $2,000 an acre-foot the last time I heard.

      (5) 5 Total Votes - 5 up - 0 down
    • October says:

      But you can’t fish or swim underground. Reservoirs make nice recreational amenities.

      (-1) 1 Total Votes - 0 up - 1 down
  4. Niles Q says:

    It’s been known for a long time that LO’s water situation was in trouble, as the County came out with the first Severity Level III way back when Bud Laurent was supervisor. He didn’t agree and the level was set at II for a long time.

    Too bad, because the town lost a few years not doing anything about it.

    I’m sure Julie is right about a lot of things, this too probably. Shutting down the Palisades well (library) is probably a good idea. It seems to be the likely main cause of the seawater intrusion. At least that’s where they say it’s accelerating.

    The town will eventually need a treatment plant if it eventually the upper aquifer is tapped, so brace yourselves, you pesky taxpayers.

    In many regards, it’s Los Osos’ fault, for the water situation and more. There are few sidewalks and street lamps because back in the 80s and 90s the people on the town’s committees wanted it that way. They thought being able to see stars was more important. That’s OK, it seems to work for Los Osos.

    People fought the sewer because they wanted the water returned to the groundwaterr basin, which septics do pretty well, though it stays near the surface in the upper aquifer. The drinking water, as Julie said, is drawn from about 800 feet deep.

    They rejected Nacimiento Lake water, and State Water, believing that there was plenty of water in the two basins and for the high costs. I guess the un-stated goal was to eventually put in a water treatment plant, draw from both basins and treat and blend it, run iut through the homes and businesses (and the residents) and return it to the ground.

    The attitude if not the hidden strategy, was to use a lack of resoures as an anti-growth tool. If the water supply (and sewer moratorium) were not solved, the town wouldn’t change, ever. That too worked effectivvely, as Los Osos hasn’t grown much if at all in all these years.

    Good for the people already living there but not those who have property they can’t develop.

    Now the chickens have come home to roost and I feel for all of you, my brothers and sisters, in Los Osos. It truly is bound to become VERY expensive to live there (if it alreaady isn’t) and the problems and expenses that you must now face are monumental.

    Now, to decide where do you plan and build a water treatment plant?

    (10) 14 Total Votes - 12 up - 2 down
    • Rambunctious says:

      Very informative and well stated…I agree 100%

      (3) 9 Total Votes - 6 up - 3 down
    • jimmy_me says:

      We didn’t do anything? Give us some credit. According the Tribune, we cut our water usage significantly since year 2000, long before the drought thang started trending.
      . Isn’t that something?

      (9) 9 Total Votes - 9 up - 0 down
  5. mrcyberdoc says:

    Some time ago we boarded our horse at a facility at the end of Sea Wind Way off Pecho Road. The owners have a nice facility with irrigated pasture for the horses. My first question was about their water quality. They are located 1500′ from the sand dunes and shark inlet. They said their well, which I believe is ~140′ deep, is pumping quality water with NO salt water intrusion. Giving it the simple taste test confirmed their statement.

    This would seem to contradict the study, and updated basin plan, proposed by the county and approved by our local water purveyors. With a cost of $34 million dollars there are no guarantees, nor do we really know if it is even needed. The fact that not all the effluent from the sewer plant will be returned to the Los Osos aquafer, this only exacerbates the ground water problem. For some reason, all the hydrologic studies (which I read online) seem to agree that all the effluent doesn’t need to be returned to our existing ground water from which we pump for Los Osos. In times of drought this study will not hold up. Hello! that’s where we are at right now.

    I recently attended the latest informational meeting on the Los Osos sewer progress. To date my property taxes have more than doubled. Now I find out this is only about 40% of what we will be seeing on our taxes after hooking up to the sewer sometime in the future. Add to this $34 million dollars for water and I wonder if anyone will be able to afford to live here. I do believe much of this is a guise to continue the building morotorium for Los Osos, ad infinitum.

    (0) 14 Total Votes - 7 up - 7 down
    • Julie says:

      The seawater intrusion is real!
      It’s much lower than 140ft. the Sea Wind well is pumping from.
      Most of our municipal supply is coming from the lower aquifer 700-900 ft. deep wells
      because of the upper aquifer nitrate pollution rendering the upper aquifer unusable
      without treatment, which is much of what the Basin Plan costs are associated with.

      I’m disappointed in the headline on this piece, I didn’t pick it. We DO need to worry about seawater.
      The first step is better management.

      As for the “continue the building moratorium” observation: New development will
      have to pay for much of the plan programs or any other new source (if State or Naci. were on the table).

      (-9) 17 Total Votes - 4 up - 13 down
  6. shelworth says:

    But at least our saltwater will have a lower nitrate content soon…

    (4) 8 Total Votes - 6 up - 2 down
  7. JMO says:

    I remember coming up to Morro Bay from LA to camp with our family in the mid 1960’s. We were there for a few days. One day my sister and I rented a row boat and rowed over to the dunes. It was a heavy wooden boat and really hard to row back against the tide before our time ran out. One afternoon our dad took us over to Los Osos to look at lots for sale that he heard about. There were stakes in the ground, or I should say sand. The lots were selling for $200. My dad looked at the stakes in the sand dunes and said “This is highway robbery!”.

    I came up to go to school at Cal Poly in 1974 and the first place I lived was in Los Osos. There were about 2,000 people then. Within a year the population increased to 3,000. I was hitchhiking to school one day and this guy who gave me a ride said “I’m moving out of here! It’s getting too populated.”

    Los Osos jumped in population to what it is today, but still the people that live there have a unique independent attitude. Kind of a hippy feeling to it still. But the increase in population has its ramifications that have to be dealt with. The sewer, no matter how convoluted the whole process is, needs to go in. We are past that. Water is another important issue. Julie wrote a good article about it. No matter whether you point fingers at different people, in the end you are going to have to deal with the problem. It will rain again, but we will also have droughts again.

    I don’t live in Los Osos any more and haven’t for a long time. But I still know people who do and who care about the town.

    (21) 25 Total Votes - 23 up - 2 down
  8. LameCommenter says:

    The article also over-cited moron director Chuckie Cesena who destroyed the previous project with his vote. He’s a goof and local government disaster who talks like he knows something.

    Not that anybody has forgiven Julie for the same catastrophic vote, but at least she corrects the Chuckie sky is falling attitude in this opinion piece.

    (11) 33 Total Votes - 22 up - 11 down
    • Julie says:

      Dear LC,

      The vote to issue the Notice to Proceed 8/12/05 on a downtown sewer was made by the board before Chuck was elected 9/27/05.
      Lisa and I were the minority on on that board and both voted “NO”.

      Much of what we objected to about that project was that it didn’t provide recycled water to the ag fields east of town.
      It used pumps and MEGAwatts of electricity to push the treated water to Broderson, where it would be overloaded (even this project recognized that and the number of gallons has been cut in half)
      where it would mound and be pumped off and run back through the plant. This would have done nothing for seawater intrusion.

      The only up-side to that project was its $500,000 (matched by $1.2M of ratepayer dollars) to replace toilets. That might have gotten us a heard start
      on retrofitting the town, but to what degree? We’ll never know. Hell, the County has $5M for that purpose and only $1.2M has been spent since 2012.

      I invite you to go on the March 31 tour of the under construction plant behind the cemetery and then ask yourself
      if this should be in the middle of town, next to the library, the Catholic Church, the Community Center, the Chamber of Commerce,
      the only park, and across the street from Sunnyside Elem. School. I think you’ll agree, downtown is no place for a sewer plant.

      I believe, as I’m certain Chuck does too, that the bankruptcy was an unfortunate effect caused
      by the front loading of contracts and mobilization. During that month of construction only 3,000 ft. (of 42 miles) of pipe was put in the ground.
      No laterals were installed. The whole start of construction was electioneering (using taxpayers dollars) to convince the voter not to vote for the recall and the initiative
      that would prevent the citing of a sewer plant within the CSD boundary. That “show” backfired. People, even people who were pro-Tri-W
      believed in democracy and were outraged that the Stan-Richard-Gordon board would begin construction before
      the election was allowed to take place. That decision cost them their seats.

      I would vote to Move the Sewer again today!

      (-19) 39 Total Votes - 10 up - 29 down
      • LameCommenter says:

        Don’t give us your revisionist claptrap, Julie, which you know it is.
        There was no “show” over your too-little, too-late badly timed recall. Those contracts were in place and you were late to the party, your recall happened by a slim margin caused by lies and persuasion and was YEARS LATE, and you know it. THE WHOLE PLANET told you and your MORON cohorts NOT to cancel a going, vetted, funded project.

        The bankruptcy was due to front loading and mobilization? You poor deluded mistake of a director, GEEZ ! Just ADMIT you wiped out millions for your townsfolk, and MOVE ON. We’ll try to forgive. We all have the proof of your mistake on our “now-LOADED property tax bills”.

        Forgive me for my intensity, you are a personable human when speaking, but you made a MORONIC costly MISTAKE in your arrogance of power, and your votes and action while in office cost YEARS of grief, expense, and continued pollution. Town-wide!

        I admire that you can even hold up your head and show your face in public. I’d hang mine face down had I wrecked a whole town project and district, and bankrupted the place. Geez.

        YOU WOULD VOTE TO WRECK THE TOWN AGAIN TODAY ? Kindly seek help for your self-delusion. We can all learn from mistakes, even whoppers, as you can too. Have your developer husband send my property it’s $ 24,933 back, I’ll accept cash, cashier’s check or gold, Julie, and sincerely personally promise you complete absolution and atonement for the grief. I can be forwarded mail from Boxholder, P.O. Box 7200, Los Osos, 93412

        (18) 34 Total Votes - 26 up - 8 down
        • Julie says:

          What do you think the $24,933 is for? It is for the “benefit” of a sewer.
          The LOCSD was simply going to put that “benefit” charge in your rates.

          The original assessment for $20M had already been spent before the recall, it wasn’t going to build anything.

          How “too-little, too-late badly timed recall” was it when the signatures were gathered well in advance and the Stan-Richard-Gordon board voted to hold the election AFTER the NTP was issued?
          They had the ability to hold that election 2 full months earlier. (Ahead of the NTP).

          You can’t blame me for that.

          “Years late”? Hell, I ran for office and won handily on a Move the Sewer platform.
          S-R-G didn’t want to admit that the platform was what the community embraced, not necessarily me.

          LC, it is what it is.

          (-13) 29 Total Votes - 8 up - 21 down
      • Pelican1 says:

        Hey Pot….meet Kettle.

        (0) 2 Total Votes - 1 up - 1 down
  9. Vagabond says:

    The Triv has always been worse than nothing

    (0) 26 Total Votes - 13 up - 13 down

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