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A Nacimiento catastrophe is looming 

The problem needs a $1.178 million fix no one has the money for, and even if they had the money, no one can do anything to fix it yet. The one thing that’s clear about a so-called “unusual” sewage line running through Lake Nacimiento is something needs to be done.

“Without being alarmist about it, this seems like something we need to work hard to correct,” San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Bruce Gibson said about a perplexing sewage system that runs below the water level at Lake Nacimiento and is in danger of a catastrophic breach.

A pipe that carries sewage for Oak Shores collection system customers was built in 1974. About two miles of pipe, however, are submerged, and while the stretch was previously considered waterproof, erosion has exposed some components.

In March, the system experienced a “breach” when lake water infiltrated the pipe. While such a breach isn’t considered a catastrophic failure, if sewage leaks into the lake—now a source of drinking water for cities and towns from Paso Robles to San Luis Obispo—no one in the county seems to know exactly what would have to be done and how many people and agencies would be affected.

Public Works officials received approval on Nov. 1 from county supervisors to begin a risk assessment, which has $60,000 in available funding.

But the deeper problems—replacing pipeline components and covering exposed mainlines, for example—will cost an estimated $1.178 million to repair. The problem is the county only budgets $15,000 to $30,000 per year for repairs in the affected county service area.

The system was built to handle about 850 customers, according to Public Works. Paying for the repairs will likely require a combination of such funding sources as grants and assessments on property owners. But even with money in hand, Public Works crews are only able to work when the water levels subside.

With the board’s approval, Public Works will move forward with the risk assessment and come back to county supervisors with a final report and funding scheme.

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