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Morro Bay reaffirms a water emergency 

Morro Bay city officials have reaffirmed that the city is in an emergency situation with its water supply.

In late 2009, city officials first created the emergency declaration, which states that the city is in an emergency whenever deliveries from the State Water Project dip below 35 percent of normal. Though the declaration is still technically on the books, city staffers asked the City Council to reaffirm the declaration in order to increase public outreach in ongoing water conservation efforts, help secure state and federal grants, and highlight the seriousness of the situation as Morro Bay pursues a new permit for its desalination plant.

Morro Bay relies almost entirely on state water, which has dried up in recent years and, in fact, was reduced to zero allocation earlier this year. Public Services Director and City Engineer Rob Livick told city councilmembers on April 22 that the state recently increased allocations back to 5 percent, though local officials still believe all allocations will be cut off in 2015. If and when that happens, the city will likely have no ability to access its reserved state water.

The city’s best second option is its desalination plant, for which city officials are currently working to get re-permitted. City officials recently imposed conservation efforts on residents in hopes of extending Morro Bay’s reserve supplies held in the San Luis Reservoir, and in the future they hope a water reclamation facility will add to the city’s water portfolio.

City councilmembers voted 4-1 to reaffirm the emergency declaration. Councilman George Leage voted against the proposal and questioned whether the city is actually facing troubles with its water supply.

“It seems like to me there’s this panic thing going on here,” Leage said. “If we have water, why are we bringing in a local emergency? It seems like we have plenty of water for Morro Bay.”

While the city technically has enough reserve water to last approximately three years, city officials expect that it will be inaccessible by 2015.

City councilmembers also unanimously approved a proposal that would require new developments to offset water usage by two to one. The proposal first came before the City Council on Jan. 11, but a majority voted to postpone a final decision and take in additional public comment as developers in the area worried that new conservation requirements would be too onerous. Under the approved resolution, new development can either offset its water usage or pay an in-lieu fee.

“I think this is actually really pretty exciting to update this program,” Councilman Noah Smukler said. “I’m in favor of this particularly because I think it’s important that new projects pay their share.”

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