By KAREN VELIE
The Arroyo Grande City Council voted unanimously on June 8 to back out of Central Coast Blue, a regional recycled water project set to bring a reliable water source to the Five Cities area, unless their demands are met.
After years of meetings, the cities of Pismo Beach, Arroyo Grande and Grover Beach agreed on plans for a recycled water project to bring 1,000 acre feet of water to the South County cities. In addition, the injection of recycled water into the basin could help protect against seawater intrusion.
However, in March, Arroyo Grande City Council members refused to approve the agreement unless it required union labor. Pismo Beach and Grover Beach officials rejected Arroyo Grande’s demand noting the cost to rate payers. The existing operating agreement already requires a good faith effort to hire qualified local residents, though they did not need to be union members.
On April 13, the Arroyo Grande City Council discussed the importance of acquiring another reliable water source, and then voted unanimously to withdraw from the project unless the other cities agreed to form a management committee, subject to the Brown Act, to manage the project.
Under the proposed agreement, Pismo Beach would operate the facility through their public works department in order to keep overhead low. Pismo Beach officials then voiced concerns over the cost of having to vote on day-to-day operating issues.
Pismo Beach and Grover Beach responded by asking Arroyo Grande City Council members to agree to meet in a public forum to discuss their concerns.
On June 8, the Arroyo Grande City Council rejected the offer to meet, said they would no longer contribute to the project and again demanded the formation of a management committee.
Moving forward, there are multiple options available:
Pismo Beach and Grover Beach could move ahead without Arroyo Grande as a partner and with its permission to store water in the basin. Pismo Beach and Grover Beach could then sell excess water in their portfolios to other agencies.
As it is an adjudicated basin, Pismo Beach and Grover Beach could seek a judge’s order to allow them to store water in the basin, if Arroyo Grande refuses to give permission.
The state is working on modifying rules for potable water, which currently require storage in a basin, changes that could result in no basin requirement. The modification would lower overall costs and a need to get Arroyo Grande to sign off on the plans.
The cities could scrap plans for a recycled water project and ask residents to conserve water during droughts.
Pismo Beach Mayor Ed Waage said his city worked in good faith and expended funds to support water security for all three communities, with Arroyo Grande now refusing to pay their share of the costs.
“The city of Pismo Beach is incredibly disappointed in the action of the Arroyo Grande City Council to not move forward with Central Coast Blue,” Waage wrote. “Water is essential to our future and economic vitality, and we are now in a severe drought. Pismo Beach is committed to working with our partner in Grover Beach to find solutions and ensure politics does not come before action. We will continue to pursue a sustainable and drought-resistant water future.”