San Luis Obispo County is studying a plan to build a pipeline from Diablo Canyon power plant’s desalination facility to some county destination. The idea is to crank up the PG&E owned desal facility to full capacity that could yield 850,000 gallons of water daily for some thirsty community nearby.
A quick look at the map shows the coastal nuclear power plant is located about equidistant from Avila Beach and Los Osos. In terms of need, it’s hard to imagine a thirstier town than Los Osos.
Unlike almost any other community in the county, Los Osos with a population of 15,000 is totally reliant on groundwater for drinking with both heavy nitrate contamination and surging sea water intrusion to add to the severe drought conditions that together have shut down virtually all new construction here based on lack of water. All purveyors are soon expected to deny any new ‘will serve’ letters or allow transfer credits.
In June the county and PGE announced a 5-year plan to provide desal water from the utility’s existing Diablo Canyon facility to the county for fire fighting as well as other possible uses. Now a BOS committee study underway led by Assistant CAO Guy Savage is looking at the possible uses of the water and a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors of any next step to implement a plan. Savage says his group has had limited time to study the issue with an August 25 report to the BOS coming up.
At last weeks Los Osos Community Advisory Council (LOCAC) meeting supervisor Bruce Gibson in attendance was asked about the idea of connecting to Los Osos. According to his legislative assistant Cherie McKee, Gibson said he had been contacted by a constituent with the idea and had forwarded it to the committee expressing ”enthusiastic support for it.”Gibson is out of town and cannot comment .
The Diablo Canyon desalination can make up to 1.5 million gallons a day but runs at just 40% of capacity tapping the electricity from the plant to run the reverse osmosis process using seawater.
Under the agreement San Luis Obispo County will pay $3.30 per 1,000 gallons to use the Diablo Canyon water, although for now,that is for fire protection and not potable water.
So if the water is available how would it get to some community? Both Avila Beach and Los Osos are about 7 miles away and there are roads that connect to the power plant in both cases. PG&E plans to repair the road to San Luis Bay – so there is an opportunity to lay a pipe if the choice is to send water south.
But PG&E has a road that heads north too to the Coon Creek parking lot and a county road from there goes through state-owned Montana de Oro Park next to Los Osos. Any pipeline right of way could double as a walking and bike trail some say,noting there is no safe way to self propel to the famous state park from Los Osos.
If water is be delivered to either Avila Beach or Los Osos the benefit is arguably much greater to Los Osos – a relatively low income town (median price home $468,000) vs Avila Bay where well-to-do retirees have driven up the median home price to an $857,000, the highest in SLO County!
Los Osos has only groundwater while Avila Bay is connected to surface water from Lopez Lake. Los Osos can’t build anything due to water restrictions while greater Avila Beach has a half dozen mega-projects all of who argue they enough water to build out.
Then there is the fact that Avila Beach has no seawater intrusion problem.
Relieve The Basin
Los Osos Community Services District chair Mike Wright says the crisis over seawater intrusion into the community makes this an opportune time to look at bringing in this water.
“We have major water storage tanks” near the south end of town and Cabrillo Estates and “will have an inter-tie with all three water districts in town” so water can be shared.
“Bringing in a new source of water could help relieve the basin and let it recharge” suggests CSD’s Wright.
The basin is in tough shape right now with the drought and ground water pumping “worsening the sea water intrusion into the community’s groundwater in wells as far inland as the library” says Wright.
”We just lost the Golden State well at Rosina and Fearn in the past few months” adds Wright.
In the meantime Los Osos residents seem to be doing their part to save what we have. “Los Osos CSD customers, you used 46% LESS WATER in June over last year! That is a new record and it’s only possible because everyone is doing their part” says a recent CSD email blast.
Wright says job one in the basin right now is to complete the so-called ISJ process to have a judge approve a plan to to push back the sea water. The county has helped formulate a Los Osos Basin Plan that will be brought before a judge to finalize. Currently, Osos Community Services District, Golden State Water Co., San Luis Obispo County and S&T Water Co. are working cooperatively to manage the basin as part of an agreement in a lawsuit filed in 2004 over water rights and consumption.
Long in the making the Los Osos Basin Plan has no mention of piping water from Diablo Canyon since the idea has only just now been proposed.There is no reason to believe,however that it is not complementary.
Key to the Basin Plan is to use recycled water from the new sewer plant to recharge the underground aquifer as well as dig some new wells and recharge water right in the Los Osos Creek bed near LOVR.
Fear Of Imported Water
The Basin study finalized in July notes that Los Osos as community that has never imported water like SLO city has done and as have most other areas who have already lost their groundwater to over pumping.
The plan recognizes an ethic in Los Osos, perhaps based on its relative isolation, and a strong no growth point of view. Recognizing this, the Plan says it “supports the concept of the Los Osos community living within the means of its natural capital, including water supplies, rather than reaching out to import water from another area.”
It even offers this vision: “Water supplies and demands of the Basin will be managed to avoid the need for imported water supplies in the Plan Area, to the extent possible.”
Philosophically Los Osos does not like importation of water. But what about this situation?
On a recent talk radio show Los Osos activists Julie Tacker and Jeff Edwards discounted the idea of running a pipeline form Diablo to Los Osos saying it is “no magic pill” citing high energy costs to make potable water and the cost of building a pipeline at “ $3 to 4 million a mile.”
”Nobody is going to save us” philosophized Tacker.
This seems to reflect this antipathy to importing supplemental water.
As for the cost, a county estimate in the Basin Plan to pipe water from El Chorro pipeline to Los Osos is estimated at $1.5 million a mile.
As far as the cost of production PG&E says using nuclear electricity for desalination is relatively cheap as Diablo Canyon produces this electricity at “only 4 cents per kilowatt-hour, cheaper than most other energy sources in California.”
A spokesperson says the overall cost will be about a tenth of a cent per gallon, and “monthly water bills might rise $10 or so.”
The Los Osos Basin plan already rejected importation of water from north county’s Nacimiento Reservoir and Whale Rock even though the plan showed just how a pipeline connecting to Los Osos might be located.
San Luis Obispo depends on Nacimiento Lake water and a 70 mile pipeline for about one third of its drinking water.That pipe sprung a leak and was shut down for 10 months until recently repaired. Today SLO relies on reservoir water for most of their supply having suffered groundwater issues including subsidence when they too, wanted to depend only on their basin for supply.
Now Paso Robles is also tied to Namcimiento as a source to help relieve that hard hit basin that has been over pumped.
Nacimiento enjoys better rainfall totals than we do down south. This year you may be surprised to know that lake has received double the rain totals than the year before and has around 90,000af in storage.
As mentioned almost all towns in San Luis Obispo County rely on piped water from reservoirs and other imported sources – not nearby ground water. With the exception of Los Osos and Cambria virtually every other town has a source other than groundwater for customers to fill their glasses and their bathtubs.
SLO county gets 3380 acre ft a year from the 45 mile pipeline from Nacimiento added to 6940 acre ft from other surface water sources that supplies the 10,471af total.SLO city uses some 6000 af with the help of conservation.
Paso Robles gets 4000af from Nacimiento and Atascadero gets 20000 af, Templeton 250af Cayucos 25af.
The Whale Rock Reservoir is a 38,967 acre-foot reservoir near Cayucos provide water to the City of San Luis Obispo, Cal Poly State University and California Men’s Colony, The Whale Rock Dam captures water from a 20.3 square mile watershed and water is delivered to the three agencies through 17.6 miles of 30-inch pipeline and two pumping stations.
This month Nipomo too hooked up to a new supply from Santa Maria that includes imported state water that comes from Northern California.Locals agreed to the extra cost, the pipeline cost $17.8 million to build, in part to help push back seawater invading Nipomo.
The Tribune wrote that the Nipomo pipeline is the first project to bring new water into San Luis Obispo County in 20 years and the first developed water to be brought into Nipomo ever, said water district manager Mike LeBrun said.
World Of Hurt
“It is past the time when any community should be comfortable relying on a single water source,” he said. “Look at Los Osos and Cambria; both are reliant on a single source of water, and they are in a world of hurt right now.”
Another local official added “If we do nothing about the water shortage we’re facing, there will be extreme consequences in the future,” he said, citing a loss of wells, extreme water rationing and a prolonged shortage leading to falling property values.
He pointed to seawater intrusion that started in 1985 in Los Osos, resulting in six lost wells as saltwater advanced two miles inland.
Today the seawater intrusion in Los Osos is 3 miles inland.