Arroyo Grande rejects water project, the right thing to do

June 19, 2021

Julie Tacker

OPINION by JULIE TACKER

Finally, someone has “spit out” the Central Coast Blue Kool-Aid that’s been served for years. It’s about time the Arroyo Grande City Council stood up to Pismo Beach on what I call, “Central Coast Boondoggle.”

I disagree with the SLO New Times’ shredding of the City of Arroyo Grande in their article, “Arroyo Grande opts out of Central Coast Blue, barring new agreement.”

Under the current agreement, Arroyo Grande is charged with paying for half of the continuing preconstruction project costs until they and Grover Beach equalize project contributions with Pismo Beach.  It’s a prudent position they’ve taken, reconsidering all options and the cost for additional water for their city.

The City of Pismo Beach, as the project’s lead agency, has couched Central Coast Blue as “a local water sustainability project that will create a new, high quality and reliable water supply for our Five Cities communities, including Arroyo Grande, Pismo Beach, Grover Beach, and Oceano.”

A project that started out in the $28 million range has ballooned to over $50 million to produce a mere 1,000 acre-feet of water; of which Arroyo Grande would receive just 400 acre-feet.  The ongoing cost to Arroyo Grande is nearly $2 million a year that will be added to the water rates. Watch out AG residents, your water bill is going up, up, up!

Approximately five years ago, Central Coast Blue, then under the name “Regional Groundwater Sustainability Project,” appeared interesting to grant providers; they love to fund projects that sound important. Over the years the project has received millions in state and federal grants (i.e. yours and my tax dollars). Grants are not “free money” like winning the lottery, but they are funds intended to pay for projects that otherwise might not be funded at all.

The project was “rebranded” to “Central Coast Blue” to capture the interest of the communities who will actually be paying for it.  I invite you to check out the project website, it looks like a glossy travel platform inviting you to Pismo Beach to drink its treated sewer water – bottoms up!

Not only is the branding misleading to grant providers and residents, including Oceano as a partner is a complete head fake. Oceano CSD will never need any of its water and certainly can’t afford it – they can’t even afford their Five Cities Fire Authority services.

Central Coast Blue is in trouble, they set out to put a series of injection wells in the Coastal Dunes RV park and campground along Highway 1. Millions of dollars were spent evaluating the land and the project’s environmental impacts at that location. Most of these costs were paid for by grants, but each of the cities and South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District also contributed.

A serious issue was brought to their attention when the temporary (intended to be converted to permanent) test well permit was appealed by Jeff Edwards to the California Coastal Commission. The campground property is improperly zoned for a permanent well.

While the Coastal Commission denied the appeal, they did agree the zoning of the land in the campground would need to be changed. This was before $750,000 in grant money was spent drilling the well in that same campground—they drilled anyway.

During the drilling of the test well, Pismo Beach received warnings from SLO County Planning Department after I alerted the planning director that they were in violation of their permit when they posted ridiculous 20 foot tall by 50 foot long banners promoting the project on the sound walls, which they had understated in size.

Changing the zoning to accommodate the injection wells in the campground is too expensive and will take too long, likely making the injection well component of the project infeasible in the campground.  Pismo Beach has amended the contract with the engineering firm, WSC, who should have known about the land use limitations.  At this point, Central Coast Blue promoters are scrambling in search of other parcels for injection wells. WSC has racked up nearly $1 million pursuing the project and it’s nowhere near being permitted or ready to build.

While I often disagree with the Arroyo Grande City Council, I do agree that the absence of a governance structure under the Brown Act for Central Coast Blue advantages Pismo Beach, who will get just 200 acre-feet of the recycled water. Pismo Beach and Grover Beach don’t want to comply with the Brown Act, claiming it adds cost to the project.

Not performing the people’s business in front of the people who are paying the bill is taxation without representation.

It’s time to dump the Central Coast Blue Kool-Aid like the colonists dumped tea in Boston Harbor.


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gail Lightfoot

Julie,

Do I recognize the words, engineering firm, WSC? Who or what is WSC?


Your letter, as usual, is well written.

gkl


Francesca Bolognini

I always find it interesting that the most obvious, natural and inexpensive way to increase water supply is never addressed by these governing bodies, so eager to welcome multi million dollar projects that the tax payers must then fund.


The simplest answer, that would also increase biodiversity, lower fire danger by increasing humidity, create highly effective fire breaks, possibly increase rainfall, and greatly help to slow water to seep into the land, creating flood control and recharging our aquifers, would be to BRING BACK THE BEAVERS. We once had 600 MILLION more BEAVERS living in North America than we do now. This by itself is a big reason for a lot of desiccation of our lands and depletion of our aquifers. Our rivers and streams have been reduced to mere drainage ditches that direct water immediately to the ocean along with massive amounts of our top soil. This is unsustainable.


Look into The Beaver Believers and the SLO BEAVER BRIGADE. You too might become a believer. And they work for free. Supervising them would be infinitely less expensive than any other method of increasing our water supply and it comes with so many benefits as opposed to problems like waste disposal or power requirements.


WAKE UP PEOPLE, yo are being had by these promoters of mega million dollar projects. Nature has a better and much more sane solution.


sbjcl

Thanks Julie for pointing out the facts of this folly. One wonders if a desalination plant could be built for $50 million that could produce more than a 1,000 acre of water.


MysticOne

Multiply by a factor of 10 and you will start to get close. The Carlsbad plant cost $537 million and it has zero renewable energy resources to run it (solar, wind, tidal, algae for biofuel, geothermal, etc). If those were added the initial build cost may be double but could be self powered indefinitely. Power requirements are the biggest issue with desalination but there is also the issue with where to output the brine water so we aren’t damaging the ocean.


obispan

Where does Julie think the (cheap) water is going to come from? Yes, we can drink sewer water. The rural home with a well and septic system (minimum 100′ separation) does this as does the City of Atascadero, where the wastewater treatment plant’s ponds are UPSTREAM from the water company’s wells. The City of SLO uses some wastewater, but discharges a lot to “sustain” SLO Creek, from which it draws no water. The “closed loop” is the only way to continue to build and populate like crazy.


Cthulhu Colander

Same Dude tried to do that with me. Professional Advice; Ask for Receipts.


kayaknut

Dumping Central Coast Blue may be a smart move by the Arroyo Grande council but delaying returning to in person council meetings until August is wrong, come on council you can do better


sharshofar

Thank you Julie for your clear and concise explanation. My concern was pointed at using only union labor for the project but as you have pointed out this project should not even go forward.