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South County communities plan for low Lopez levels 

As water levels in Lake Lopez—a crucial South County reservoir—continue to decline, several municipalities are considering a “response plan” designed to sustain their strained hydrological resources.

Members of the Zone 3 San Luis Obispo County Flood Control and Water Conservation District (made up of Arroyo Grande, the Avila Beach Community Services District, Grover Beach, the Oceano Community Services District, and Pismo Beach) recently developed the Lake Lopez Low Reservoir Response Plan in order to respond to drought conditions.

As drafted, the plan is triggered only when Lake Lopez reaches a level of 20,000 acre-feet. As of Oct. 21, Lopez is at 21,568 acre-feet, or roughly 44 percent full.

According to Pismo Beach Public Works Director and City Engineer Ben Fine, Lopez could reach the 20,000 acre-foot level as soon as December, necessitating quick action by South County municipalities.

The Arroyo Grande City Council and the Avila Beach CSD both approved the plan on Oct. 14, the Pismo Beach City Council approved it on Oct. 21, and the Oceano CSD and Grover Beach City Council will consider the plan on Nov. 12 and Nov. 17, respectively.

“The goal of the [plan] is to stretch the amount of water in Lopez for as long as possible—a three-year minimum—based on little to no inflow,” Fine said.

The plan accomplishes this by tapering off releases of Lopez water to municipalities as well as “downstream releases” designated for farmers, environmental concerns, and recharging of the Santa Maria Groundwater Basin. Once enacted, the plan would also zero out all “surplus” Lopez water currently claimed by Zone 3 agencies until levels once again rise above the 20,000 acre-foot level.

If the amount of Lopez water in storage declines—from 20,000 to 15,000, 10,000, 5,000, and 4,000 acre-feet—so too will the total amount delivered to municipalities—from 4,530 to 4,077, 3,624, 2,941, and 0 acre-feet. It’s a grim possibility for those who depend on Lopez entitlements.

“As the drought persists, we have to tighten up, and this [plan] is part of recognizing that,” Oceano CSD General Manager Paavo Ogren told New Times. “We have to enact stringent conservation measures if we don’t get much rain.”

Ogren said a few other county agencies still have to sign off on the plan before it becomes official. The Zone 3 Technical Advisory Committee is slated to review the plan at its Nov. 6 meeting, and the SLO County Board of Supervisors is tentatively scheduled to consider it during its Dec. 2 meeting.

“This is a precautionary move, but we need to have a plan in place so we’re not reacting in crisis mode,” said Grover Beach Public Works Director Greg Ray. “We’re doing our due diligence and planning for our water future.”

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