Protecting Arroyo Grande’s water supply

August 31, 2016
Mayor Jim Hill

Mayor Jim Hill

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.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

If Wallace and his minions had gotten off their ass’s during his rein and been “proactive” his favorite word, you’d have a waste treatment facility capable of producing reusable water. Decades later the San District still produces marginal quality effluent that’s far off from any hopes of reuse for drinking or ground water recharge.It will take years and millions of dollars to upgrade let along install treatment capable of producing a usable product. Its time to get them pitchforks sharpened up people.

Confirming my Mayor Jim Hill’s statement:

“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.”

And mine on the City rejecting the moratorium:

Council members Barneich, Harmon and Guthrie are politically inept – bungling – in not recognizing this sensitive issue. Assurances to reconsider the moratorium is an empty glass offered to thirsty citizens whose lawns turn to dust.

This Council Troika appears to be subsidized by political donations by developers.

I agree with the mayor!

Mayor Hill and Tim Brown continue to demonstrate sound leadership as they safeguard the future for the citizens of Arroyo Grande.

Tuesday’s vote was an opportunity for the council to unanimously express their recognition of a true crisis, a crisis caused by the failures of past leaders. A crisis that continues behind the dark curtains of the NCMA-s opaque decision-making process.

Opportunity lost.,, Crisis continues.

Good points Mr. Mayor and we look forward to your re-election. Why are we being gouged for more money when we used less water? Heck, I’m afraid to cut back even more for fear of having to pay even more.

Good luck with the developers in town clamoring for the attention of your council. They’ll get theirs as well in due time!

The cost per unit increase for water when use is decreased is something a lot of people have trouble understanding. It originates in the fact that much of the cost of a water delivery system is not directly related to the amount of water. The example I will use here is not linked to real costs but is just to illustrate how it happens.

If the cost to get water to you is $1000 per 10,000 gal. that is $.10 per gallon. However, some of that cost exists no matter how little or much you use. Things like maintenance of the pipes and pumps and reservoirs are fixed costs. Other costs do not go down proportionately with less use like the employee costs needed to operate the system and administration. (This is especially true in smaller operations where only one employee does a job. There are limits to how much you can cut hours if you want to keep qualified and experienced employees.) So for this example, lets say that 30% of the costs ($300) would exist no matter how much water you use. Another 30% ($300) would only be reduced by half the proportion of the use reduction. The last 40% would be reduced proportionately.

So if you cut your water use to 60% (6000 gal.), your costs would remain $300 for fixed costs. Another $240 (40% of $300 = $120 x 50% = $60 savings from $300) would be for semi-related costs. The base cost of the water itself would be $180 ($300 x 60%). This gives a total of $720 for 6000 gal of water or $.12 per gallon. In this scenario, you have just experienced a 20% rate hike for conserving 40% in use. I want to reiterate that this is just an example to demonstrate a concept and does not contain real-life numbers.

A similar situation exists with sewer costs, electricity costs, and many other services. Most people who have run a service business or one that has heavy overhead learn this concept one way or another. It is the biggest plus of operating things on a large scale as fixed costs can be spread out over a larger base and thus reduce the cost per unit to customers. (There are drawbacks to large scale operations too but they often don’t offset this benefit.)

Ron, you should run for office! You have a knack for making difficult concepts understandable. First time I’ve ever seen this situation clearly explained.

I’m afraid that many municipalities will have to face reality and stop growth. Of course this will drive up home prices amidst cries for more affordable housing. That won’t happen, if anything gets built it will be high pay for the developers. OMG do we need a state-wide mandate? Thought i would never say that.

Nothing will happen until politicians and developers houses are threatened by fire and they are told that there is no water to fight. And vineyards? How much more wine do we need for us drunks to poison ourselves.

Chinatown is one of my favorite movies; water rights. Or just Google-up movies about water rights.

And affordable housing? Idaho, Utah, Iowa, Illinois? Work it out.

My brother got smart years ago; he has a home in Southern IL and Dubois WY. Cheep and plenty of (well) water. Mt brother and I grew up on well water.

Everyone wants to be here but they don’t want to pay for the sunshine haircut.

I propose that Pismo, Grover, and Arroyo Grande merge into one city, with Jim Hill as Mayor!

End the kickbacks to developers! Boot out the tools of developers: Ed Waage, John Shoals, and AG City Council Triumvirate!

Save $$$$$ on City Services by combining fire, police, water, sewer, parks and other services!

This just in:

“Cal Fire is responding to another vegetation fire in the county, this one near Lopez Lake.

A Cal Fire spokesman said crews were at the scene of a fire on Lopez Drive in rural Arroyo Grande. The fire was burning about a quarter acre as of 3:30 p.m. Ground units, aircraft and a dozer were on scene. Lopez Drive between Orcutt and Hi Mountain roads was closed in response to the fire and downed power lines in the area.”

Note to Jim Guthrie: Still think a fire is a red herring?