Opinion Of The Adobe Press and TPR On Nipomo’s Water

The Adobe Press, last week, and now today the Times Press Recorder have run an editorial discussing the need for Nipomo’s residents to decide its future as it relates to water as well as it relates to growth. The editors make some good points, which should be debated in the weeks and months to come. The editorial is block quoted. My comments are interspersed:

Residents need to decide the real future of Nipomo

Water district officials in Nipomo should have paid more attention to the film “Chinatown,” a 1974 Oscar winner, the defining premise of which is that water is power.

“Chinatown” is fiction. The fix the Nipomo Community Services District board finds itself in is not.

The board is attempting to figure out how to meet the community’s water demands in the coming years. Plan A has been to build a pipeline from the city of Santa Maria, which has agreed to sell a portion of its state water allotment so that Nipomo can better meet the needs of growth.

But Plan A will likely have to give way to Plan B, C or even further down the list, because the cost of building the pipeline has quadrupled — from an estimated $6 million to $24 million — since the board began considering such a project.

The real, final costs won’t be known until an analysis is completed in a few months, but if the normal laws of economics apply, the pipeline project will only get more expensive. Assuming that to be the case, NCSD board members had better start working on other options — if the overriding philosophy is that the community should continue to grow. More about that in a moment.

Looking at other options is clearly a wise idea; however, it is too early to throw in the towel completely on the water pipeline. As the editors point out, we won’t know final costs for a bit longer.

The best other option mentioned so far is construction of a desalination plant, turning ocean water into potable water. But the problem is that the desal option is expensive, too. And desal plants across the nation are encountering all kinds of operational problems that push up the cost even more.

I actually think this is the best option available. Yes, desal plants are expensive; but, they are also a reliable source of unlimited water for our community. The pacific ocean isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Furthermore, Cambria, our coastal neighbors to the north are looking into the same option. We can learn a great deal from their efforts.

Another option is that the district could take a stab at tapping into the State Water Project, a notion that was widely rejected here two decades ago. That also would be the least expensive alternative.

But it’s not a viable option. For one thing, surrounding communities that participate in the state water hookup would have to agree. Santa Maria officials have already indicated they’re not interested in such a deal, in large part because of the money the city has invested in its state water connection and because of the loss of business in selling its water to Nipomo.

State Water might be a short term fix if feasible; but, I honestly don’t know the requirements for tapping into state water at this stage. If, as the editorial suggests, that surrounding communities must give their assent–then it looks like state water will be an unlikely option for the reasons cited.

This is quite a mess, one made worse by the myopia of past district officials and Nipomo residents who decided years ago they wanted no part of state water. Time and circumstances have certainly changed that outlook.

The disputes surrounding state water those many years ago were focused on cost and using water as a growth facilitator. It is now clear that inflation has made those original state water costs a bargain.

Using water as a weapon against growth, continues to this day. There are voices in this community which continue to claim Nipomo is running out of water. There are voices claiming that no further growth can occur without new water sources. While I agree that supplemental water is necessary–it is neccesary for our long term future water security, not because we need more water in order to sustain the current growth. That is simply false. Using water to control growth did not work in the past, and it will not work now.

But what of the growth issue? Nipomo is showing signs of wanting independence from county rule through incorporation. The community wants to determine its own future — and those are decisions that need to be made on a broader scale than at the NCSD board level. Perhaps the district should consider a communitywide referendum on enhancing the water supply and how that facilitates growth.

This goes beyond the board just seeking more input from citizens. These are issues that need to be voted upon by the folks who will have to live with the outcome.

While water is a very important issue facing our community, I believe incorporation is by far more critical to Nipomo’s future than is the current water debate. Though, I do not mean to suggest the water debate should be set aside or postponed. We can and should address both issues. But, the indisputable fact remains that water and growth issues will be issues in Nipomo’s forseeable future whether we are a city or not. The difference is that as a city, Nipomo will have more and better refined tools to address the issues of water and growth. Cityhood isn’t necessarily about water or growth. Rather, it is about a better way to address both of those issues.

The editors are right that growth issues should be decided on a community wide basis. Once incorporation moves forward and a petition made to LAFCO, then residents community wide will have an opportunity to vote on cityhood as well as the ability to have a say in their future growth. But, the NCSD can and should play an important local role in the incorporation movement. They are the only viable source of revenue to finance the high costs required to move forward with incorporation. (I will post more on this shortly). They are also the most equitable body to lead the community to its eventual destiny.

For now, the board has made a good decision to put the pipeline project on hold. Now the real discussions about the future need to begin.

I agree.

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