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Parched 

Water, water, every where, nor any drop to drink.” I guess Coleridge’s ancient mariner didn’t have access to a nuke plant’s desalination system and an extra $36 million lying around to connect it to his water system.

On March 23, the SLO County Board of Supervisors all agreed on something—miracle!—and that something was to spend $900,000 to study the possibility of spending another $21 million to $36 million to lay 7 miles of pipeline connecting Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant’s desal system to the Lopez Lake water system.

I’m no mathematician, but on the high end, that’s more than $5 million a mile to supply 1,300 acre-feet per year, servicing about 4,000 homes in the Five Cities and Avila Beach areas. That’s $9,000 per home just for the upfront costs.

As public commenter Jeff Edwards said, “It’s too little water for too much money,” adding, “I ask you the board to stop this madness now.”

Is it madness? Who knows. Maybe it’s the only short-term solution at hand. Lopez is the South County’s main water supply, and even after our El Niño winter, it’s at just 30 percent capacity. Unlike SLO Town, the South County signed up for the State Water Project, but the supply has been unreliable. The nice thing about a desal plant is you’re not going to run out of seawater. In fact—silver lining!—thanks to Global Climate Change, seawater levels are rising!

The supes had to do something. As 4th District Supervisor Lynn “Cover My Ass” Compton said, “I guarantee you that we’re all going to be criticized when people run out of water down there.”

The Diablo facility desal plant is operating at just 40 percent capacity. PG&E Spokesman Tom Cuddy said the company was all for the collaboration … and why not? Since the nuclear plant’s license is up for renewal, this creates another reason to keep splitting atoms near an offshore earthquake fault line. Wheeee!

3rd District Supervisor Adam Hill noted that there’s only about two years of water left under current conditions, which is about how long the project is expected to take to complete.

“I think it would be money spent well if we can get to the final product,” 1st District Supervisor Frank Mecham said. “Water’s going to cost money.”

Both 2nd District Supervisor Bruce Gibson and Hill noted that the plan is but one part of the solution.

Hill promised to keep interested parties “in the loop” on the project, including Pismo Beach Councilmember and California Coastal Commissioner Erik Howell. Remember that guy?

Appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown to the Coastal Commission in 2014, Howell famously changed his vote on a Pismo Beach project—a housing development on North Silver Shoals Drive—after having dinner and drinks with planning consultant and lobbyist Susan McCabe and other interested parties. Oh, and did I mention Howell also received a $1,000 donation to his re-election campaign for City Council from Antoinette DeVargas, operations manager for McCabe’s consulting company? 

Hey Erik, what about that law that requires you to disclose campaign contributions of more that $250 from anyone who stands to benefit from your decisions as well as recuse yourself from those decisions?

Howell declined to comment on any connection between his wining, dining, and contribution and the change of heart. Nothing to see here. Move along.

He did wonder why everyone was scrutinizing his Silver Shoals decision but not, for instance, his decision to allow SeaWorld to expand its tank in exchange for ending its Orca breeding program. 

“Why doesn’t Shamu get to have sex?” Howell asked, hopefully rhetorically, because—seriously—Shamu didn’t get to have sex. He got a hand job at best, and anyway, the reason no one’s asking you about SeaWorld is because you didn’t flip-flop on that decision after someone threw a thousand bucks at you.

Howell may eventually have a say on the desal pipeline. Hey Adam Hill, don’t worry if Howell votes “no” the first time. Just take him to dinner and slip him a few hundred.

Meanwhile up north, Paso voters decided to bury their heads in the dry, dry sand when they rejected a proposed tax to fund management of the sprawling Paso Robles Groundwater Basin. Now the county has until July 1, 2017, to figure out how to manage the basin or the state could step in and take control. And if county supes weren’t fighting before—and they were, because I guess that’s why we elected them—they’re really going to hit each other with chairs now. 

In one corner we have Gibson and Hill, who say: Enough, bring in the state. In the other, you have 5th District Supervisor Debbie Arnold and Lynn Compton, who wrote a letter saying that the county’s Flood Control and Water Conservation District has managed the basin for “more than 70 years” and that SLO County’s Public Works Department is “fully capable”—we just need to find the money, which apparently falls out of the sky like rain.

And waffling in the middle is Frank Mecham, looking like a deer in the headlights.

“There passed a weary time. Each throat was parched, and glazed each eye. A weary time! a weary time!”  

The Shredder suddenly got really thirsty. Send ideas and comments to shredder@newtimesslo.com.

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