Seawater Intrusion And The Nipomo Aquifer–Or, Whither The Water Crisis II

One of the popular pastimes these days in the local Nipomo water debate is discussing the health of the Nipomo Aquifer. One of the most common scare tactics used by those who argue that Nipomo is in the midst of a water crisis is to claim that the Nipomo aquifer is over drafted and is in imminent danger of sea water intrusion. Fortunately we can look at objective empirical data to help us answer the question about whether the Nipomo aquifer is over drafted and if it has experienced seawater intrusion, or whether we are in danger of seawater intrusion in the future.

The first place to look is at the pre-trial and trial testimony of experts hired by the NCSD and other water purveyors in the Santa Maria water basin complex litigation. I have already posted the actual deposition transcript of the NCSD’s expert Robert Bybee as well as the relevant testimony portions here.

You can read the entire transcript and the relevant excerpts in that prior post; however, the bottom line according to Mr. Bybee, is that the water basin is currently meeting the water needs of the community and it is not in over draft:

It’s my understanding, according to Mr. Scalamini’s testimony, and my review of the whole thing that, yes, there is no long-term overdraft, which is another way of saying that the basin’s current demands are being met.

And, as to the specifics of the health of the Nipomo aquifer, there is sufficient water already in storage for several years usage even in the unlikely event of zero recharge, which has never occurred for the period of time records have been kept:

It’s a parallel statement for Nipomo Mesa. Number six reads, “There are presently 84,000 acre-feet (year 2000) in groundwater storage above mean sea level in the Nipomo Mesa management area. This would meet projected water demands at 2030 levels for five years without replenishment. There has never been zero recharge or rainfall in any annual period for the entire period of record.”

Mr. Bybee was not the only expert who opined at trial that there was no current evidence of any seawater intrusion. Joseph Scalmanini, the Water Conservation District expert, rendered opinions at trial about the overall health of the Santa Maria Basin and whether or not there was evidence of seawater intrusion:

“The picture is generally the same as I just described. There was an increase in water levels from the 1930’s to the 1940’s. There was a progressive decline through the late 1960’s. There has been fluctuations, but let’s say to the 1990’s at least with intermittent recovery of the groundwater basin to close to or at the historically experienced high levels both in the mid-1980’s and the late 1990’s or close to the turn of the century. There is no continuation of the downward trend which was occurring in the part of the 1960’s, and there has been stable to increasing water levels since.” (Reporters Transcript, Scalmanini, at 1257:3-13)

“So, compared to all of those conditions in the context of all of those [coastal basins], the conditions in this basin are uniquely good. I could sort of mentally walk down the coast and say water levels range from a few tens to as much as 100 feet below sea level in a number of coastal basins at or near the coastline. There is history of intrusion in numerous places.

This basin has none of that, never has had and today doesn’t have it. Today, again, in the confines of coastal basins, if you wanted to try to personalize it, others would be envious of the conditions of this basin. It fluctuates, meaning the pumpers can extract water from dry periods from storage without detrimental effects and it replenishes during [wet] cycles and has done that repeatedly for a minimum of the last 35 years [and] actually back through the entire period of available record.

Man has taken it from no development to upwards of 60,000 acres of agricultural land use and the associated pumping and with that that exceeds 100,000 acre feet a year. I’m including now the municipal demand that’s increased with time as well, without, you know, any of the detrimental effects. That’s a pretty good set of basin conditions particularly along a coastline.” (Reporters Transcript, Scalmanini, at 1303:4-26.)

The emphasis in red above is mine; but, I thought that particular conclusion important regarding the question of seawater intrusion throughout the entire Santa Maria water basin, including Nipomo. This basin has none of that, never has had and today doesn’t have it.

This was testimony given at trial and in depositions during the various phases of the trial, between approximately 2005 and 2006–pretty recent data. But, that’s not all. There is further, even more recent data to support the conclusion that the Nipomo aquifer is healthy and that there is no evidence of any seawater intrusion.

On May 23, 2007, Brad Newton, P.G. SAIC, the engineering experts hired by our local NCSD board of directors to keep them apprised on the overall health of the Nipomo aquifer presented a report to the NCSD board. His complete report is located here on the NCSD website. His conclusion and presentation to the NCSD board as reflected in the NCSD minutes for that meeting reflect:



Dr. Brad Newton of SAIC made a presentation of 2007 Groundwater Storage Update and Report on Coastal Monitoring Well Water Quality Results With testing of sentinel wells along the coast line, it was determined that there is no evidence of seawater intrusion. There has been little or no change in the water quality since 1975.

Present at this meeting were Directors Trotter, Vierheilig, Eby, Harrison, and Winn–all five. According to the minutes, not one of those directors challenged Mr. Newton from SAIC about his conclusion that there was little or no change in water quality since 1975, or that there was no evidence of any seawater intrusion. Again, I have added the emphasis in red; however, this is a verbeitm quote from the NCSD minutes of this meeting.

The question that comes to my mind, is that if any of our elected NCSD directors had questions about seawater intrusion, or felt there was legitimate evidence that there was seawater intrusion into the Nipomo aquifer, wouldn’t they raise it directly to their hired expert Mr. Newton? Rather than question the veracity of Mr. Newton’s conclusions that there was no evidence of seawater intrusion, the minutes reflect that the entire board thanked Mr. Newton for his informative report.

I can only conclude that the board as a whole believed Mr. Newton, and accepted his conclusions. This same board, after all, hired him to perform this research. Clearly they must have confidence in his years of training, experience and expertise in the field. SAIC is the same engineering company the NCSD board hired to provide expert testimony on their behalf at trial. Clearly the NCSD board has confidence in this engineering firm, their abilities and professional opinions and conclusions.

Based on Mr. Newton’s conclusion that there is no evidence of seawater intrusion in the Nipomo aquifer and the NCSD board’s acceptance of this report and conclusion, I would assume the NCSD would naturally share this information with the public at large. I would think this would be information readily available on the NCSD website. Isn’t this the type of information, of which all rate payers of the NCSD should be made aware? One would think. But, one has to know where to look to find this information. It is buried on the NCSD website. There is no mention of this, that I can see, other than in these minutes, that, up to now have never been cited by the NCSD about the issue of seawater intrusion. I will have more to say on this subject in a future post.

2 thoughts on “Seawater Intrusion And The Nipomo Aquifer–Or, Whither The Water Crisis II

  1. Pingback: Is The NCSD Misleading The Public About Nipomo Water? « Nipomo News

  2. Nipomo was one of the cities that we were considering for relocation. But, reading about all these water issues. Is it worth it to move to Nipomo?

    It is of great concern to me that I live in a place with enough water, but where in CA can be assured to have a good water supply?

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