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Los Osos CSD worries that its sewer plant doesn't have enough water for farmers 

At the beginning of 2018, the Los Osos Wastewater Reclamation Facility was finally able to connect and provide service to 95 percent of the Community Services District's customers.

After overcoming that first hurdle of getting the facility up and running, the Los Osos Community Services District (CSD) is facing a new challenge—having enough recycled water to supply the community and other entities.

click to enlarge SHARING WATER RIGHTS As part of a coastal development permit agreement, the Los Osos reclamation facility is supposed to deliver water to residents, schools, leach fields, and four incoming farmers. - FILE PHOTO BY DYLAN HONEA-BAUMANN
  • File Photo By Dylan Honea-Baumann
  • SHARING WATER RIGHTS As part of a coastal development permit agreement, the Los Osos reclamation facility is supposed to deliver water to residents, schools, leach fields, and four incoming farmers.

Chuck Cesena, the Los Osos Community Services District vice president, said he is concerned that the facility's current water flows aren't enough for the community and four incoming farmers. He sees that the district may need to end its deal with the farmers in order to best serve the rest of its customers.

One of the conditions for the reclamation facility's approval was that at least 10 percent of the total available recycled water go to an agricultural exchange program with farmers in the area to provide recycled water to new crops not currently irrigated. Contracts in place with four local farmers allow for the sale of up to 81 acre-feet of recycled water per year, approximately 16 percent of total water available from the facility, for $100 per acre-foot.

"It's a reasonable program if you have a lot of water, and at the time, we thought we had more," Cesena said of initial plans.

In 2017, the Los Osos Basin Management Committee drafted a report on the recycled water management plan. The report stated that due to water conservation efforts and drought restrictions over the past five years, there was a significantly lower flow of effluent moving into the facility than was anticipated in 2012.

In October 2017, the report stated, flows to the plant were about 43 acre-feet per day, the equivalent of 506 acre-feet per year. According to the report the average annual volume of water flow would be between 500 and 550 acre-feet per year. That's half of what was anticipated.

Ron Munds, the utilities division manager for the county, said that the county has currently paused everything with the recycled water program regarding the farmers' contracts—except for one.

He said one farmer has come forward to receive their recycled water. Legally, the other two farmers have the right to come forward and say they would like to be hooked up to the facility, as well. But, for now, Munds said that staff hasn't heard from them.

"What we're planning on doing is, because we want to be respectful and responsive to the community, our plan is to take something back to the Board of Supervisors ... that will reaffirm the direction we are taking or sends us in a different direction," he said.

County staff currently doesn't have a date set for when the item will appear before the Board of Supervisors.

Cesena said that the whole idea behind the facility was that reclaimed water could replace some potable water uses so that water could remain in the groundwater basin to mitigate seawater intrusion.

"We're not trading or offsetting any kind of saltwater mitigation value [with farmers], so there's no value in having this program other than it complies with the permits and we've spent on the infrastructure for it," he said.

In order to get approval for the reclamation facility's coastal development permit, the California Coastal Commission required that all of its recycled water get reinvested locally.

The permit was granted in 2010, and two years later, the district prepared a recycled water management plan. It identified the quantity of water that would be available when the facility was finally ready for use. At the time, the district believed that the facility would produce 748 acre-feet of recycled water per year—keeping in mind the current developed properties connected to the facility.

In an effort to give back, the facility planned to deliver recycled water to schools—Los Osos Middle School, Monarch Grove Elementary School, Baywood Elementary School, and Sunnyside Elementary—the community park, and the Sea Pines Golf Course. The water would also be sent to two leach fields, where recycled water would seep into the underground basin's upper and lower aquifers, in the hopes of maintaining water levels.

In order to satisfy the requirement about recycled water going to local farmers, San Luis Obispo County entered into recycled water contracts with four landowners who either had no existing wells or had poor groundwater conditions.

Cesena wasn't involved with setting up the contracts with the farmers, but he said he does see that there may have been some business investments that were made with the understanding that water was going to be delivered. Still, he said, he would rather talk with SLO County, the California Coastal Commission, and the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board to eliminate the ag exchange program altogether.

Before recycled water should be invested in farmers, Cesena said, it should be given to the homes within the community.

"It seems like that's where the allegiance should go if we're going to decide where the best use of the water is," he said. "I don't want to be unsympathetic to people who have spent on this investment." Δ

Staff writer Karen Garcia can be reached at kgarcia@newtimesslo.com.

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