Protecting Arroyo Grande’s water supply
August 31, 2016
Opinion by Arroyo Grande Mayor Jim Hill
Last year, backed by the threat of huge fines, California required Arroyo Grande to cut water usage by 28 percent city-wide. Experiencing unprecedented drought, our residents achieved 37 percent water savings last year.
This year, the state gave us a choice: demonstrate you have a three-year reserve supply or continue the mandated percentage reduction. Arroyo Grande opted to continue the 28 percent reduction requirement because we can’t demonstrate a three-year reserve. Even after saving 37 percent last year, we only have a two-year reserve.
Our conservation savings were large enough that we had to reward residents by raising the rates due to the drop in water enterprise revenue from reduced sales volume. Residents conserved this water –and are paying as much but receiving less- with the expectation that what they conserved would be reserved for their own future use as we approach emergency conditions.
Arroyo Grande residents don’t expect to pay more only to have their conserved water allocated for development projects and annexations that will obviously increase usage.
Arroyo Grande’s General Plan and buildout projections were made before the threat of climate change and current drought experience became reality. Our water supply is also counted on for fire suppression from east of the city out to Avila Beach. Our emergency plans did not fully account for extremely dry conditions accrued over several years that have seen trees dying and major fires occurring nearby.
There are few options: state water for declared emergency use only is on the ballot but would come at extreme cost. We are working toward recycling but that and desal are both costly and several years away.
Our supply is so precarious that the Arroyo Grande City Council voted unanimously this year to join in a lawsuit against the Nipomo CSD to impose a building moratorium in Nipomo due to the adverse impact on Arroyo Grande’s water supply from further development in Nipomo.
But when it came time to consider a development and annexation moratorium here, only Councilman Tim Brown and I supported it.
We are told that additional development will only require 2 percent of our total water reserves. But if that 2 percent of the total was all derived from the 19 percent (37 percent of one year savings apportioned over two years remaining supply) that is only available because of our conservation at resultant high prices, it would use up 10 percent of the amount we conserved.
It’s an election year. Some of our council and candidates are more interested in assuring support from developers than assuring our water supply for current residents. We need a development and annexation moratorium.
Jim Hill is serving his first term as mayor after winning as a write in candidate in 2014. He is currently running for reelection.