Barring a massive flood of rain in the upcoming weeks and months, Morro Bay’s water situation will continue to grow even more dire.
On Jan. 11, the Morro Bay City Council grappled with a decision to further increase the city’s conservation measures on new construction. However, city councilmembers voted 4-1 to at least temporarily forego any new restrictions on how Water Equivalency Units (WEUs) will be issued.
Currently, the city requires water for new development to be offset at a ratio of 1-to-1. In other words, for every unit of water needed, the developer must conserve one unit.
The offset was previously achieved via low-flow toilets, which have been installed in nearly every house in the city, according to city staffers. But Public Services Director and City Engineer Rob Livick recommended on Jan. 11 that the city increase those requirements to 2-to-1.
Morro Bay receives more than 90 percent of its water via the State Water Project, and that resource is drying up. The California Department of Water Resources recently announced a zero percent allocation of state water, which leaves Morro Bay with only its reserve water held in the San Luis Reservoir—which is also under threat. While the city has access to reserves through 2014, Livick said other municipalities have begun to withdraw reserves and store that water locally, and Morro Bay so far has no capability to do so. Currently, the city is on track to lose all access to state water in 2015 and perhaps even as far out as 2016, Livick told councilmembers.
“That leaves Morro Bay in a bad situation,” he said.
The city’s other water sources are problematic. Well water is either inaccessible or must be treated through desalination, but the permit that allows the city to operate its plant has expired. The city is in the process of getting its permit renewed through the California Coastal Commission.
Still, the proposal to increase offset requirements on new development was met with fierce opposition.
“This is, in fact, a building moratorium,” said resident John Barta, who argued that the new requirements would be impossible to achieve. “This is just nonsense.”
A majority of councilmembers agreed, and asked to hold off on making any new changes until the city can take in further public input. City councilmembers voted to keep the status quo for now, take in more public input, and revisit the item in 60 days.
“I kind of just smell moratorium on this,” Councilman George Leage said of the 2-to-1 offset proposal. “And I sure don’t want to see that.”
Councilman Noah Smukler was the sole dissenting vote, urging that the city increase offset requirements.
“Right now, I’m not willing to continue letting this run down the track, knowing what could be ahead of us,” he said.
City staffers will schedule stakeholder events to discuss further options for water offsets. Councilmembers also asked Livick to continue making regular reports on the city’s water situation.