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Pismo Beach enters desal study, focus still on Central Coast Blue 

Pismo Beach joined a local desalination feasibility study, completing the San Luis Obispo County-wide bandwagon to identify long-term water supply sources.

The last to participate, the Pismo Beach City Council agreed on April 4 to support county efforts in the face of exiting two historic droughts and an uncharacteristically wet winter season, the flood control and water conservation district naming water resiliency as a high priority, and the Central Coast Blue project nearing realization.

click to enlarge PRIME CHOICE Pismo Beach has many options for water supply sources including connecting to Diablo Canyon's desalination plant, but the city favors the Central Coast Blue project. - FILE PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • File Photo By Steve E. Miller
  • PRIME CHOICE Pismo Beach has many options for water supply sources including connecting to Diablo Canyon's desalination plant, but the city favors the Central Coast Blue project.

A SLO County-based desalinated water project is one of the many options that could be available to Pismo Beach to buttress against drought-induced water shortages. Other sources include connecting to Diablo Canyon's desalination plant, raising the Lake Lopez dam spillway, and buying more water from the state.

But city spokesperson Jorge Garcia told New Times that Pismo Beach has a favorite, which contributed to its late desalination study entry.

"The city looks at Central Coast Blue as the most viable option," he said. "We want to make sure we have a reliable water source to draw from in 2026."

With Pismo Beach as the lead agency, Central Coast Blue is a cost-sharing agreement split with Grover Beach and Arroyo Grande. The project aims to protect the Santa Maria Valley Groundwater Basin from seawater intrusion and drought by injecting it with treated wastewater. Central Coast Blue is expected to produce water by late 2026.

The SLO County desalination study, on the other hand, anticipates completion by 2041. It now involves 16 agencies, including every city and community services district in the county, Golden State Water Company, and Santa Barbara County.

"Relying on water sourced from precipitation from outside [SLO] County is challenging due to the county's relative geographic isolation, energy, right-of-way requirements, and fluctuating supply year to year," the county's desalination plan website states. "A new drought-proof, local water supply will be necessary to sustain the population long-term, and with the county's 90-mile coastline, desalination is a realistic goal."

The desalination project is divided into five phases. The county will cover expenses for the first two stages, which involve nailing down a resolution of agreement among participating agencies and developing the plan.

At the Pismo Beach City Council meeting on April 4, Mayor Pro Tem Mary Ann Reiss wondered about potential pushback from the California Coastal Commission regarding the desalination project. City Public Works Director Ben Fine mentioned precedent in the form of the Coastal Commission's recent approval of the Doheny Desalination Project in Dana Point.

"That's positive but it is a challenge, as well as cost, [which is] why we didn't pursue desalination and why we went with Central Coast Blue," Fine told Reiss.

City Council members were also apprehensive about entering the third phase of the proposed plan—the period in 2029 when the agencies discuss the cost allocation for each. But joining the study comes with the choice to opt out later at any time. Pismo Beach's participation also hinged on a deadline. Refusing to join the study would lock the city out of the desalination project forever.

"If we don't approve this resolution, we'll never have a seat at the table," Mayor Ed Waage said. "With all the changes going on with water these days, I think it's prudent to sign on and see what happens." Δ

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