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South County water treatment project gets go-ahead 

Central Coast Blue received the signal for construction kick-off, with Pismo Beach approving its share of the project's $55 million cost.

The City Council's unanimous agreement on March 1 completed the trio of endorsements needed to move forward with the water treatment plan. Earlier this year, Grover Beach and Arroyo Grande—Pismo Beach's partner cities—greenlit the cost-sharing plan.

Since Pismo Beach is the lead agency in Central Coast Blue, it will foot the majority of the bill at 39 percent or $20.4 million. The beach city will also cover 39 percent of the almost $4 million annual debt service and operational maintenance cost that's projected over the next 30 years.

click to enlarge LEADING ON As the lead agency, Pismo Beach will pay roughly $20.4 million of the almost $55 million Central Coast Blue project cost, with Arroyo Grande and Grover Beach covering 25 percent and 36 percent of it, respectively. - FILE IMAGE COURTESY OF PISMO BEACH
  • File Image Courtesy Of Pismo Beach
  • LEADING ON As the lead agency, Pismo Beach will pay roughly $20.4 million of the almost $55 million Central Coast Blue project cost, with Arroyo Grande and Grover Beach covering 25 percent and 36 percent of it, respectively.

Like its two counterparts, the Pismo Beach City Council authorized its city manager to apply for a low-interest loan from the State Water Resources Control Board that would be paid back through the city's net water and wastewater revenues.

But there are some perks to shouldering the bulk of Central Coast Blue's cost. Pismo Beach would own 39 percent of the 1,000 acre-feet of water injected into the Santa Maria Valley Groundwater Basin every year.

"The Santa Maria Groundwater Adjudication [SMGA] has several definitions of the type of water and its uses. New water is brought to the basin from various sources. Other entities in the SMGA won't have access to that water; the three cities have the primary right to that," Pismo Beach City Attorney Dave Fleishman said at the meeting.

In a bid to alleviate drought and seawater intrusion, the Central Coast Blue project is a regional partnership to inject the basin with treated wastewater. But along with recycled water, "new water" or water from other sources would also be introduced.

While Pismo Beach, Grover Beach, and Arroyo Grande would have access to both new and recycled water, the Oceano Community Services District —the other agency in the Northern Cities Management Area (NCMA) that manages groundwater extraction—would only have access to the treated water. Expected to begin in 2023, the project could take two years to complete.

But at least one member of the public thought Pismo Beach sidelined the other agencies with vested interests. Jeff Edwards spoke about a letter the Water Board sent in October 2021 to Ben Fine, the city's Public Works director. Edwards read aloud from the letter that stated Pismo Beach's simulated groundwater model showed that seawater intrusion would impact one well near Oceano called Pismo Beach Well 23.

"You've enabled your staff to hoodwink the two neighboring cities into paying to treat Pismo sewage and protect one Pismo Beach groundwater well from seawater intrusion," Edwards said at the meeting. "So much for protecting NCMA partners. Let's be candid, anybody can treat wastewater, it's what to do with the treated effluent that's the real challenge."

Joshua Medrano, who is the executive secretary-treasurer of the Tri Counties Building and Construction Trades Council, also spoke during public comment. He supported the project but wanted the agencies to employ San Luis Obispo County's local workforce to keep "our tax dollars local" while maintaining low labor cost. Ultimately, the city awarded Water Systems Consulting Inc. the sole contract for program management, permitting, and final design services. Δ

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