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Los Osos to get water conservation rebates, but who will fund it? 

Los Osos residents hoping to cash in on rebates for outdoor water conservation measures to help restore the community’s troubled water source—the Los Osos Valley Groundwater Basin—will have to wait until uncertainty around funding is resolved.

On Dec. 2, the Los Osos Basin Management Committee released a draft conservation plan that outlines eight water-saving measures eligible for hundreds of dollars of rebates. The plan offers up to $500 to residents who implement one of a series of outdoor conservation measures, including repurposing a septic tank into a rainwater catchment system. Indoor conservation rebates are included for hot water recirculation systems, high-efficiency clothes washers, and low-flow toilets and showerheads.

“This is a first and important step to pursue some funding either through the Los Osos Wastewater Project or some other means,” said Rob Miller, executive director for the Los Osos Basin Management Committee.

Finding the funding for the program is the next big hurdle, and it’s been a sore subject for community members who claim that SLO County is obligated to pay for it under the Coastal Development Permit (CDP) for the wastewater project. A condition on the permit states that the county must spend $5 million for water conservation. It’s spent about $1.5 million on conservation thus far.

“The county should fully fund this program now,” said Patrick McGibney, a Los Osos landowner and a California Valley CSD board member.

Complicating the issue is that the language in the CDP narrows water conservation to indoor water use and sets a goal of limiting water consumption to 50 gallons per capita per day. County officials have said they’ve met that goal, but California Coastal Commission staff told New Times that the $5 million must be spent regardless.

A frequently discussed source for funding is a $3.8 million grant provided for the wastewater project from the state Department of Water Resources. That grant has paid for past conservation efforts, but it is a “general grant” for the project—in other words, not solely earmarked for conservation. Wastewater Project Manager John Waddell told New Times that the remaining funds from the grant have already gone toward other project expenses.

SLO County 2nd District Supervisor Bruce Gibson has repeatedly stated the entire community overlying the basin in Los Osos should bear the cost of funding the new water conservation rebates, not just those in the “sewer zone,” which covers most but not all of the basin’s users. He said he’d look for money the county can put forward as a loan to be later paid back.

“My vision is we want to shift the conservation requirement away from the wastewater plant out to the water purveyors and the community,” Gibson told New Times.

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