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Arroyo Grande declares water shortage emergency 

Arroyo Grande residents officially have to work harder at conserving water or pay fines up to $200.

The Arroyo Grande City Council unanimously declared a Stage 1 Water Shortage Emergency at its Oct. 12 meeting due to the statewide drought and resulting low water levels at Lopez Lake, which provides drinking water to the Five Cities communities including Arroyo Grande.

The city was already taking a reduction in water deliveries from Lopez at the time of the emergency declaration. Arroyo Grande officials were hopeful when San Luis Obispo County dipped a toe into the wet season with a two-day rainfall starting Oct. 24, but they want more of it.

click to enlarge PRICEY THIRST Arroyo Grande residents stand to get fined up to $200 if they violate their water consumption threshold even though the city is already receiving fewer deliveries from Lopez Lake. - FILE PHOTO COURTESY OF LOPEZ LAKE MARINA FACEBOOK PAGE
  • File Photo Courtesy Of Lopez Lake Marina Facebook Page
  • PRICEY THIRST Arroyo Grande residents stand to get fined up to $200 if they violate their water consumption threshold even though the city is already receiving fewer deliveries from Lopez Lake.

"It is encouraging that a good storm has come early in the rain year; however, we estimate that seven or eight more good storms are needed to see needed improvements at Lake Lopez," City Manager Whitney McDonald said.

Arroyo Grande needs 30 inches of rain before the emergency order can be lifted, McDonald said. The Lopez Lake Reservoir accumulated almost 3 inches of rain after the showers on Oct. 24 to 25, according to SLO County Public Works rain data.

Public Works Deputy Director Kate Ballantyne said that nailing down an exact amount of required rain is complicated because the pre-existing moisture content of the soil layer impacts runoff.

"A general rule of thumb would be that we need upwards of 10 inches of rain before the creeks start flowing and filling reservoirs," she said. "Of course, the length of time between storms and the ability for the soil to dry would affect the amount of rain necessary to generate runoff in the creeks."

City officials are doubling down on saving water with the help of a tiered reduction system for residential customers. Residents will have to reduce bi-monthly water consumption by a certain percentage compared to the same billing period in 2020, which is the baseline. Tier 1 customers using zero to nine units of water are exempt from reduction. Tier 2 customers using 10 to 18 units have to reduce consumption by 7 percent. Tier 3 with 19 or more units has to cut back by 14 percent. Commercial and institutional customers with separate irrigation meter accounts have to lower usage by 25 percent.

The city announced that customers would receive letters about their respective baselines by Dec. 1. They will also receive warning letters with their February and March 2022 billing.

"Mandatory financial penalties will be levied on all water users who fail to reduce consumption in the percentages required, starting with a written notice of violation and increasing incrementally to a $200 fine," according to the city.

Alternatively, defaulting customers can also attend a two-hour Water School class in place of paying the initial $50 penalty. The class will provide tools and strategies for how to stay within assigned baseline water allotments. But this option is only available once.

City Manager McDonald said that customers choosing to attend Water School at a later date after paying their fines would receive a $50 credit to their next bill. She added that the emergency plan is here to stay for a while.

"The Stage 1 Water Shortage Declaration will stay in effect throughout the wet season because it will take time for the region and the state to get out of the drought," McDonald said. Δ

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