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Some Grover Beach residents want their City Council to rethink the city's involvement in Central Coast Blue 

Some Grover Beach community members are protesting the increase in water rates proposed by the city to help fund the Central Coast Blue project, claiming that the project is unnecessary and overly expensive.

click to enlarge PROTEST MARCH Grover Beach community members took to the intersection of Grand Avenue and 8th Street with signs to protest higher water rates before marching to City Hall to continue their protest during the Nov. 13 City Council meeting. - PHOTO BY SAMANTHA HERRERA
  • Photo By Samantha Herrera
  • PROTEST MARCH Grover Beach community members took to the intersection of Grand Avenue and 8th Street with signs to protest higher water rates before marching to City Hall to continue their protest during the Nov. 13 City Council meeting.

While some have disapproved of the project from the beginning, most followed suit after a Grover Beach staff report recommended increasing water rates almost 20 percent to help fund the Central Coast Blue recycled water project.

"The study recommends annual water rate increases of 19.7 percent for years one through four beginning in January 2024 along with a 4 percent increase in year five," the staff report for the Sept. 5 City Council meeting states.

Frustrated with the news of higher water rates, former Grover Beach Mayor Debbie Peterson gathered others who felt the same and led a "March for Grover" on Nov. 13.

"Grover Beach citizens are protesting their City Council's Central Coast Blue plan to drastically increase water and sewer charges. From landlords to renters to homeowners to business owners, almost all agree that this project is too expensive," Peterson said.

About 25 people gathered on Grand Avenue and 8th Street on Nov. 13, holding up signs against increasing water rates and Central Coast Blue, eventually making their way to City Hall and continuing their protest during the City Council meeting.

"When I originally heard about the project, I was actually very excited and I thought it was great we had local controls on our local water supplies, but now after seeing and hearing more detail of the plan, I strongly recommend that our council take a pause," Grover Beach resident and former county supervisor candidate Stacy Korsgaden said during public comment. "The No. 1 reason is cost."

Grover Beach City Manager Matt Bronson told New Times that the City Council understands residents' frustration over increasing water rates and said that city staff is actively working on coming up with the most cost-effective solution.

"We are concerned about affordability in our community, and we are concerned about people being able to pay these bills along with other bills they have. We're going to be discussing some options to help soften the impact for our community," Bronson said. "At the same time, our water supply needs are real."

Bronson said Grover Beach currently gets its water from the Santa Maria Valley Groundwater Basin and Lopez Lake, but due to almost yearly drought, Grover Beach needs a more consistent and less drought-impacted option.

"Our water only comes from essentially rainfall that falls into Lopez Lake and falls on the ground that gets seeped into the groundwater basin," he said. "Lopez Lake ran dry last year, and you can't get water from a lake that's dry."

Bronson said Central Coast Blue is a drought-resistant source of water, so residents will continue having access to fresh water.

"As long as people are using the shower, using a sink, [and] using a toilet, there is wastewater produced and this project will treat that wastewater to drinking water standards, and then inject it into the groundwater basin," he said. "So it doesn't tie into drought conditions because it's producing ongoing water to support our community's needs."

Bronson said that Central Coast Blue has received $40 million in grant funding already, is applying for another $10 million in federal grants in the next couple of weeks, and is being funded by more than one city.

"This project is more than just Grover Beach. We're not the only ones behind this project, and we're not the ones who are ultimately constructing this project. We're one of three agencies," he said. "All the grant money that's been received and our future grant money helps support this whole project. We pay 36 percent of the project costs, and we get 36 percent of the new water that's created as part of the project."

Another cost concern that Grover Beach resident Lesley Marr mentioned during the Nov. 13 City Council meeting is the yet-to-be announced potential cost for a second phase.

"The Central Coast Blue project is great in theory, but it's a financial disaster in its current state. Costs are grossly misstated and after five years of planning you still don't know the extent of the project financials," Marr said during public comment. "Saying phase 2 might not happen is not an answer. We all know [it will] happen, so phase 2 needs to have monetary value associated with it."

Central Coast Blue Regional Recycled Water Authority project General Manager Geoff English told New Times that only phase one has been proposed and is a standalone and independent project from phase 2.

"Phase 1 will intercept the treated wastewater from the city of Pismo Beach and discharged to the ocean through a pipe that runs near Highway 1 to Oceano," he said. "This discharged water will be intercepted at the [Advanced Water Purification Facility] near Highway 1 and treated."

English said phase 1 of the project is estimated to cost $93 million, while the cost for phase 2 has not yet been estimated.

"Phase 2 proposes to treat wastewater discharges to the ocean from the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District, and this is a potential new water source that can be considered by water managers and policy makers in the future should it be needed," he said.

Peterson told New Times that $93 million is a dramatic price increase from how much the project cost when it was first proposed.

"A year ago, we found out that the price had ballooned from $25 million to $93 million and then in June, not even five months ago, we found out that [the project's pipeline] had moved from the railroad tracks into the residential streets of South Grover Beach," Peterson said. "That's a really touchy point for the people in Grover because we just increased our property taxes ... in order to fix our streets."

Previous New Times reporting showed the initial estimated cost of the project at $55 million. English said the drastic increase in price is due to inflation, which has hit the construction industry hard.

"There's no doubt that there has been a cost impact or a cost increase since the original cost projections for the project," he said. "When we went to the joint City Council meeting in June of [2023], that was the first time that we had revised the cost estimate to $93 million from the previous cost estimate that we did a couple of years prior."

City Manager Bronson said that the project will be built on vacant property in South Grover that was already purchased for this project in the industrial area.

"They're in this area because it helps to protect the groundwater basin, and our production wells, where we actually get the water from, are also in South Grover Beach," he said. "During the project, we'll be constructing pipelines that will take water to the injection wells and they'll go into about 1 mile of our city streets. However, we designed the routes carefully to minimize going into recently repaved city streets and we'll be only going into about two blocks of streets."

Bronson said in total, construction will take around two years to complete.

"They'll be staggered over time based on the construction needs and ultimately, nobody will be displaced," he said.

English said that this project is vast, complicated, and residents might have concerns.

"I want to make sure that anybody who has questions about Central Coast Blue gets their questions answered," English said. Δ

Reach Staff Writer Samantha Herrera at [email protected].

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