Frequently Asked Questions About Nipomo’s Water Supply

Below is a repost from the NCSD website which contains a wealth of information about the current need to bring a water pipeline from Santa Maria to supplement Nipomo’s only sources of water, our aquifer.  I repost it here because I think it answers from very basic and good questions about why we need to strengthen and protect our current and only water supply.  It’s not that we are about to run out of water.  Rather, we have only one source, and were it to be jeopardized it would be catastrophic for Nipomo.

The Threat to Nipomo Mesa Water Supply


What is the Nipomo Community Services District?

The Nipomo Community Services District (NCSD) is the local public agency responsible for operating clean water and wastewater systems, solid waste collection and certain street lighting systems that serve our local community.  As a local government “special district”, NCSD is governed by a five-member publicly elected Board of Directors. NCSD is one of four large water providers on the Nipomo Mesa – others are Golden State Water Company, Rural Water Company, and Woodlands Mutual Water Company.

Where does our water come from?

ALL of the fresh water used by our community comes from a natural underground aquifer located hundreds of feet below the Nipomo Mesa and Santa Maria River Valley.  This precious fresh water source known as the Santa Maria Groundwater Basin is our ONLY water source.

Why is relying solely on the Groundwater Basin for our fresh water a concern?

If the source becomes unusable, we have no alternative other than severe water use restrictions. As demand on the supply continues to increase, our community is becoming increasingly vulnerable to interruptions in our solely groundwater-dependent water supply.  Over the past decade, engineers and water experts commissioned by the State and County have studied our local water supply and concluded that there is simply not enough water to meet existing, much less future, needs.

Isn’t there plenty of fresh water underlying the Mesa to meet current and future demands?

No. We are using more water than is being replaced in our fresh water supply.  Over the past decade, water levels beneath the Nipomo Mesa have fallen significantly.  In many areas of the Mesa current groundwater levels have fallen below sea level.[1]  Since 1970, groundwater levels in the Blacklake area have dropped by more than 58 feet.[2]

Studies over the past 20 years have concluded that water providers must obtain an additional (supplemental) source of water.[3]  Without an additional water source, we face critical water shortages that would severely affect our quality of life.

How do we know we have a water shortage?

The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) conducted a groundwater study that shows that groundwater usage in the Nipomo Mesa area exceeds supply.[4]  This finding is consistent with the conclusions of the County’s Resource Management Agency which has put conditions in the Nipomo Mesa Area at “Level of Severity – III,” meaning that existing demand currently equals or exceeds the dependable water supply.[5]  Both the DWR and San Luis Obispo County Department of Public Works have determined the safe volume of groundwater water that can be pumped from our wells (without harmful depletion of the aquifer).  Since 2007, our community has been using twice that amount of fresh water per year.[6]  Without an additional fresh water source, this difference will eventually lead to seawater intrusion.

We have had a lot of rain the past two winters.  Didn’t that solve our water shortage?

While above-average rainfall over the past two winters has helped, it is not nearly enough to solve the problem.  A “Key Well Index” developed by the Nipomo Mesa Management Area Technical Group shows water levels dropping since before the year 2000.[7]

I have heard from long-term residents that our local aquifers are replenished every year, or in multiple years of ample rain.  Is this true?

No.  Our fresh water aquifers are replenished by natural rainfall, but current demand (even without additional urban development) is exceeding supply.  Recent studies show that our community is actually using twice as much water today as is being replenished by rain.  Safe pumping levels in the past allowed for aquifer replenishment.  This is no longer the case.  Today we are seeing an unmistakable drop in our fresh water supply.

What do studies say about our local groundwater level?

For over 30 years, studies have identified a water problem in our community.  A 1979 Study by the State of California Department of Water Resources (DWR) reported that groundwater levels were declining in all parts of the South County.  This condition was found to be a direct consequence of water demand exceeding the natural supply.[8]  In 1993, the DWR renewed and expanded this study.  In the early 2000s, a number of water resource evaluations were conducted by independent consultants,[9] and all of these studies have concluded that current water demand exceeds the natural supply.  The studies also say that continued over-use could lead to seawater intrusion into the fresh groundwater supply.

What will happen if we continue to use water at current levels?

If we continue using fresh water at current levels, the most likely result will be seawater intrusion from the Pacific Ocean moving progressively eastward inland into the aquifer under the Nipomo Mesa.  If seawater intrusion occurs in our community (as it has in other nearby coastal communities) it will ultimately contaminate our only water supply, making it unsafe and unusable for drinking and agriculture – this could trigger a drastic reduction in property values and impact the local economy.

Are water levels being measured at different points within the Groundwater Basin?

Yes. The County and local water agencies, including Nipomo Community Services measure groundwater level in more than 200 different wells throughout the Nipomo area. The representative ‘index’ of these water levels has trended down over the last several years.

We have been getting along with local wells for years.  Why is this a problem now?

Water demand across the Mesa has increased steadily for decades while the supply of water (groundwater) is linked to long-term average rainfall and remains essentially constant.  As long as there is sufficient groundwater in storage above sea level, there is no danger of seawater intrusion.  When fresh water well levels fall below sea level, salt water from the Pacific Ocean can contaminate the aquifer.  We know much more about the warning signals of seawater intrusion now that it has occurred along other areas of the Pacific Coast including neighboring communities.  We are seeing those warning signals (supply wells operating below sea level) now in Nipomo.  We must address this problem before seawater intrusion occurs, not after.

What about agriculture on the Nipomo Mesa and the Conoco Philips Refinery?

Large commercial growers and ConocoPhillips have their own water rights, and they pump their own water directly from the Santa Maria Groundwater Basin. The amount that they pump is based on their water rights and not under our control. However, the largest users of water in the Nipomo area currently are urban residential consumers. Further, urban use has increased steadily the past two decades and is projected to continue to increase in the future.

If seawater intrusion occurs – WHEN will it occur?

The exact timing cannot be determined, but every case of seawater intrusion has been preceded by aquifers being pumped below sea level.  The heaviest production wells in our community are either consistently or seasonally below sea level.  Once seawater contaminates an aquifer, reversing the damage is nearly impossible without a large additional (supplemental) water supply.  Most seawater intrusions are dealt with by 1) abandoning the contaminated water wells; 2) flooding the area with fresh water (unavailable to Nipomo); and 3) accessing an existing additional (supplemental) water supply (which Nipomo currently does not have).

If seawater intrusion does occur here, what can we expect? WHAT will happen?

If seawater intrusion occurs in the Santa Maria Groundwater Basin, we will have to stop pumping groundwater from the affected wells and severely curtail our demand on the groundwater basin.  Absent a supplemental supply, this would require significant reduction in water use across the Mesa.  Non-essential water uses (irrigation of landscapes, including golf courses and parks) would likely be curtailed or prohibited These restrictions could be in place for years and would significantly impact property values in the area.  The only viable way to avoid seawater intrusion is to reduce groundwater pumping before it happens (conservation) and import a supplemental source of fresh water to meet the existing demand.

Honestly, isn’t the threat of seawater intrusion many years down the road?

The threat of seawater intrusion is here and now.  While it is not possible to predict exactly when it will occur, the recent experience of our neighbors is a good guide.  By 2005, Los Osos had seawater intrusion over 1 mile inland.  By 2009, the seawater intrusion accelerated to 2 miles inland.  Within two years after of Oceano’s near-coastal well levels dropped below sea level, seawater intrusion was identified 1/2 mile inland — within just 1 mile of their municipal wells.

What other communities have experienced seawater intrusion and contamination?

As demand for fresh water increases, the available supply of fresh groundwater decreases and the groundwater table (level) lowers.  This has lead to a number of instances throughout the State where seawater has intruded into groundwater basins, contaminating local drinking water.  Close to home, the communities of Los Osos, Avila Beach, Ventura/Oxnard area, and the Monterey Bay area have all been forced to deal with difficult and expensive seawater intrusion issues.  Without careful planning and alternative options, the same thing could happen here.

Isn’t this a regional problem that is better dealt with by the State or the County?

No. This is a local problem that threatens the Santa Maria Groundwater basin as a whole and the Nipomo Mesa most seriously. All other water agencies that rely on the Santa Maria Basin have already developed supplemental water sources (reservoir and state water).  Urban water users on the Mesa must now make the same effort and commitment to develop supplemental water sources. When our neighbors in Oceano experienced seawater intrusion they significantly reduced groundwater pumping and used their supplemental water supplies to meet demand.

Can conservation of the existing water supply solve the groundwater shortage?

No.  Simply conserving water cannot solve this problem. Conservation does extend the current supply but it does not provide a supplemental supply or alternative supply. Nipomo area water conservation efforts are important and necessary–these efforts are already exceeding local and State conservation goals and expectations.[10]  Even with no new development in our community, we are still over taxing the water supply at our current level of use.  The fact is for over 20 years our community has over used the existing water supply.

How can I stay informed about the water shortage problem?

To learn more, visit or contact NCSD General Manager Michael S. LeBrun at (805) 929-1133 or email him at

REV 072111

[1] Nipomo Mesa Management Area 2nd Annual Report. 2010, pp25 & 26.

Figure 3-1 shows nine wells in the Nipomo and adjacent Northern Cities areas that have water elevations below sea level in Spring, 2009, while Figure 3-2 shows 13 wells below sea level the following Fall.

[4] Water Resources of the Arroyo Grande-Nipomo Mesa Area. 2002, pg.153.

Table 29 on page 153 shows that the dependable yield of 4,800-6,000 acre-feet per year of the Nipomo Mesa portion of the Santa Maria Groundwater Basin.  Every year since 2003, water extraction has exceeded 6,000 acre-feet per year, reaching 12,000 acre feet per year in 2009 (NMMA 2nd Annual Report, pg. 33, Table 3-6).

[6] 12,000 acre-feet per year use, vs. 4,800-6,000 acre-feet per year dependable yield.

[10] Urban Water Management Plan 20102011, pp. 3-6, Figure 15.



7 thoughts on “Frequently Asked Questions About Nipomo’s Water Supply

  1. This is great, Guy. You have captured the essence of the problem in one post. Stay tuned for an informational mailer from the NCSD responding to other issues that have been raised regarding the water shortage problem and the Supplemental WAter Project solution.

    Ed Eby

  2. Hi Ed–well, I must confess it was not my essence, rather that of the NCSD, staff and consultants who came up with this. I merely reposted it to give it a but more public access. I will likely continue posting these types of information tidbits from the NCSD website to give them greater visibility out on the Internet . . .

  3. Guy
    I disagree.

    The water table has dropped in the last 10 years because of rainfall.
    There is no indication it is caused by “overpumping”.
    The water levels and cumulative rainfall from the fire station match for the last 35 years.

    Pumping for future development is completely different problem then supplying water for current uses.

    I don’t think there is a connection to charge current users so much. This project is about supporting future development. Just because the price went from the 6 million the future development could afford to 29 million they can’t is not an excuse to raise the cost for current homeowners.

    I also think that NCSD’s claim that it will only cost $8 more per month can not be supported and that is why NCSD has not produced any backup for their change from a cost of $33.33 to $54.54 per month. $654 per year is a lot money that needs to be considered with full knowledge of the facts. Which can’t be done with out NCSD releasing how they came up with $8.

    See the documents at:

    And lastly I think there is a terrible inconsistency in believe every study you read and not also believing all the studies that show the Santa Maria Valley is short of water.

    If you recall one of the claims in the lawsuit was that the Santa Maria Valley was massively overdrafted because every study said so. (upto the Santa Barbara 2008 water report). If you believe every report then the City of Santa Maria can’t be a “reliable” source of water.

    You can see those reports at:

    here is not

  4. John,

    You and I are in separate realities on this. To accept your arguments you have to ignore some very basic blatant facts:

    1. After an extremely lengthy complex trial with thousands of pages of exhibits, many, many experts who were examined and cross examined under oath, a very capable trial judge made various findings about our basin;

    2. One of them was that there are areas of depression on the Nipomo Mesa resulting from pumping around certain wells;

    3. To monitor and make certain the basin, particularly on the Mesa remains healthy, the court created a technical monitoring group, NMMA to report periodically on the basin’s health;

    4. The court has ordered, as part of a final judgment and stipulation that the NCSD import up to 2500 acre feet of water per year. In compliance with that order the NCSD and Santa Maria are working toward a pipeline to bring Santa Maria Water to Nipomo;

    5. Bringing this supplemental water to Nipomo will greatly enhance the basin’s overall health and will provide Nipomo with an additional source of water, other than just the ground water aquifer.

    It is common sense to approve this pipeline and bring this water to Nipomo as quickly as possible. In the 90’s Nipomo residents were mislead about State Water and they rejected it. Had the voted to approve State Water back then, it’s unlikely we would be where we are today.

    I support and will vote for the pipeline bringing supplemental water to Nipomo.

  5. Guy

    I think you covered some of the basic points that NCSD has misrepresented and I strongly disagree with.

    Can you point into record exactly the words you think confirm NCSD’s claims?

    As you know I attended the trials and continue to go up to the hearing including the one last month.

    You list the NCSD take on the trial and it’s results that are not actually backed up by the record.

    Comments after each claim:

    1. After an extremely lengthy complex trial with thousands of pages of exhibits, many, many experts who were examined and cross examined under oath, a very capable trial judge made various findings about our basin;
    I agree with the statement in general, I disagree with the NCSD interpretation of the documents or the “findings”
    I also disagree with the implication that the trial Judge decision is final, so any opinion may or may not be correct at this time.
    The case is still in appeal and the outcome could end up considerably different that what the trial Judge did.
    2. One of them was that there are areas of depression on the Nipomo Mesa resulting from pumping around certain wells;
    The judge did not make such a finding.
    The NCSD claim that the Judge made a finding, or “recognized” of pumping depressions is false.
    In what document and where are you reading the NCSD claimed “finding”?
    There is only one spot that I know of (and I was at the whole thing and have the complete record ) where the Judge uses the word “depression” and that is in the phase 3 trail decision.
    See for documents, Phase 3 Statement of decision
    Phase 3 statement of decision page 13 line 14:
    “If the Basin had been in overdraft for the last fifty-three years, one would expect to see evidence of the consequences of such overdraft of such a long duration. All the physical evidence is to the contrary. Monitoring wells reflect no serious depletion or lowering of water levels, other wells in the Valley are at normal levels, water quality remains good, and there is no evidence of subsidence. No evidence of seawater intrusion, land subsidence, or water quality deterioration that would be evidence of overdraft has been presented. Some wells in the Nipomo Mesa area do show lowering of water levels that may result from a pumping depression or other cause, and there may be some effects in that portion of the Basin that are not shared Basin-wide, but that is not sufficient in any event to demonstrate Basin-wide overdraft.
    Furthermore, as noted above, Landowners also presented credible evidences of a water budget-confirmed independent change in storage calculation that showed a modest surplus in supply over a reasonable base period. The court therefore concludes based on all the evidence that the Basin is not, and has not been, in overdraft.”
    Given the context of what NCSD was trying to prove that there was an overdraft (pumping exceeded the supply) on the Nipomo Mesa in such a way that there was pumping that was harmful to the basin and unlawful, and should be reduced.
    The judge found that there was not a problem basin wide or on the Mesa, and clearly made no factual finding that there were pumping depressions because he used the word “may” and “or other cause”
    There is no court finding of a connection between the claimed lowering and a problem.
    There is no court finding of which wells would be the “certain wells”
    There is no court finding of a connection between the claimed lowering and a pumping depressions.
    There is no court finding of a connection between the claimed lowering and a pumping and a need to reduce pumping.
    There is no court finding of a supply number for the “Nipomo Mesa”.
    There is no court finding of a maximum pumping number for the “Nipomo Mesa”.
    There is no court finding of a date of “existing shortage” for the “Nipomo Mesa”.
    There is no court finding of a “Nipomo Mesa area”.
    There is no court finding of a connection between the claimed lowering and a future problem with seawater intrusion.
    Also note that there is no mention of “depressions” in the appealed “final judgment” after the words “are hereby adjudged and decreed” that would “lock in” the phase the
    There is no court finding that NCSD can not just move the wells they placed to close together, further apart.
    3. To monitor and make certain the basin, particularly on the Mesa remains healthy, the court created a technical monitoring group, NMMA to report periodically on the basin’s health;
    I think that is a clear misrepresentation of what happened
    The court did not “created a technical monitoring group” the settling parties did.
    That group only exists as long as the settling parties agree to, the court can not force them to meet or report.
    The court does not even read the NMMA TG reports, they are just filled as part of the settlement.
    The agreed to report on the basin’s health is in the settling parties own standard not to a court approved standard that would be required to be the legal standard.
    And the settlement clearly states that the reports on page 31 line 9 that “The actions or decisions of any Party, the Monitoring Parties, the TMA, or the Management Area Engineer shall have no heightened evidentiary weight in any proceedings before the Court.”
    Which means to me that any thing the NMMA TG is not a final decision and is not approved by the court, and the court could at anytime in the future make a contrary decision.
    See Exhibit 1: 8mb
    June 30, 2005 Stipulation and the following exhibits thereto:
    4. The court has ordered, as part of a final judgment and stipulation that the NCSD import up to 2500 acre feet of water per year. In compliance with that order the NCSD and Santa Maria are working toward a pipeline to bring supplemental Santa Maria Water to Nipomo;
    That is not a fact.
    The court did not order the pipeline, the settling parties agreed to it under certain conditions, one of which clearly has not been meet, that the PUC approve the funding for the water.
    And more importantly there is no court order or finding of fact that there is a “existing problem” of 2500 AF that “existing customers” have to pay for, that is something NCSD made up.
    If there is where in the court record does a finding of an “existing problem” exist?
    5. Bringing this supplemental water to Nipomo will greatly enhance the basin’s overall health and will provide Nipomo with an additional source of water, other than just the ground water aquifer.
    It would be great if Nipomo had an additional source of water if it is affordable and reliable.
    The pipeline might have been affordable when future development was going to pay for it.
    It is not when people on fixed incomes are dragged back in to cover the costs future development have now decided is too expensive, based on an unfounded claim of an “existing problem” of 2500 AF or the groundwater is falling from over pumping.
    I think the Santa Maria water has a profit built in that we should not pay for, the water is not reliable and will result in increased development which in the future will create more of a water problem then we currently have.
    If there is water in Santa Maria valley it can be pumped for free to support existing uses for way less then this plan.
    We should all Vote “No” today, wait for the appeal to be completed, NCSD to dig up the missing monitoring wells, the technical group to make an actual report on how much water can be pumped, so the exact amount “existing” customers need to pay can be determined.
    Also it so unfair to not have the cost of the water made public, is it $50 per month or $8 per month. Where is the transparency?

    John Snyder
    The WIP is a half baked solution:
    Given NCSD own numbers that there is a 6000 AF overpumping, we will end up in the same spot with a 2000 AF solution for 10 years as a 0 AF solution for 7 years
    For a 6000 AF per year shortage with a 2000 AF per year solution:
    That would be 6000 AF * 10 years or 60,000 AF shortage minus 2000 AF * 10 years = 40,000 AF shortage at the end of 10 years
    For a 6000 AF per year shortage with a 0 AF per year solution:
    That would be 6000 AF * 7 years or 42,000 AF shortage minus 0 AF * 10 years = 42,000 AF shortage at the end of 7 years

  6. John,

    I have no illusion of persuading you that you are wrong; however, your misrepresentations and the misinformation you and your unidentified group at the No WIP website, are feeding the public are so blatant, so out of step with reality and the facts of the court’s judgement and the stipulation of the settling parties I am compelled to dispel them.

    1. The judge’s decision is final pending any appellate court overturning that decision. No court has issued a stay of the trial court’s decision. Therefore it remains in full force and effect, right now, today 03/22/12. This is obvious by the actions of the stipulating parties and the various management groups created under the judgement and the petition. Given the type of complex litigation this was, the fact it was a court trial, based on my experience as a trial litigator for over 25 years I find it is highly unlikely any appellate court will overturn the trial court here. They give great deference to trial courts in their findings and rulings. Be prepared to lose any appeal you and your group may have filed.

    2. The judge did make findings that the Nipomo Mesa area, and various others need management. Paragraph 5 of the judgment, provides that the groundwater monitoring provisions (which includes the Nipomo Mesa group) contained in the Settlement Stipulation are independently adopted by the Court as necessary to Basin management and apply to all parties, including the non-stipulating parties who are required to monitor and maintain records of their water production and make that data available to the Court or its designee. You can read the exact language here in Paragraph 5.

    Clearly there are areas on the Nipomo Mesa which need water management, which the court has recognized. Whether they are depressions or some other need, or whether they’re described in the language you prefer, is irrelevant. The judgement and stipulation (which stipulation is incorporated in its totality by the court’s judgment) clearly outlined the need for water management on the mesa. That is a fact. The NMMA is created in this paragraph 5.

    3. The NMMA is created in this paragraph 5. Whether it was originally created by the parties via stipulation or a judgment of the court no longer matters as the stipulation is incorporated into the court’s judgment. The NMMA exists, and it is performing its functions under the Judgment/Settlement Agreement.

    4. It is a fact that the court has ordered the NCSD to comply in the management of the Nipomo Mesa area by bringing the the area at least 2500 acre feet of water to the Mesa. Now, whether that be via pipeline, or some other means, the stipulation/order is silent; however, it is crystal clear the NCSD must comply and bring the supplemental water to the Mesa. This language is found beginning with part VI of the Stipulation which you can read here.

    It begins on page 21. In essence this part of the stipulation/Order provides the following:

    1. Supplement Water in the amount of 2,500 acre feet per year is to be brought to the Mesa per
    the M.O.U. between NCSD and the City of Santa Maria.

    2. The costs of the Supplemental Water are to be borne by NCSD (66.68%), Woodlands (16.66%), Golden State Water Company (8.33%) and Rural Water company (8.33%). all other Mesa water producers bear no costs for the supplemental water program.

    3. The 2,500 acre feet per year requirement may be adjusted up or down by the NMMA Technical Group.

    4. The potential enforcement of Part VI requirements are dependent upon the full implementation
    of the supplemental Water Project.

    5. If a potentially severe or severe water shortage condition ensues before implementation of the
    Project, NCSD, Rural, Golden State, and Woodlands are required to develop a well management program acceptable to NMMA Technical Group which may include conservation measures,developing a different source of supplemental water or a moratorium on “will serve” letters.

    6. Any Stipulating Party may move the Court to modify the Judgment based upon the fact that the Supplemental Water Program is not being implemented.

    Finally,it would even have been better had Nipomo bought into state water in the 1990’s but it didn’t. We’re faced with what we have, and must deal with it now. Ignoring the facts doesn’t seem to be a very reasonable solution, particularly since the basic facts which I have set out here are all contained in the court’s judgment and stipulation of the parties. People can read the relevant parts of the documents I have linked to and make up their own minds. This is what the court ruled after all the evidence was presented. It is what the stipulating parties must deal with.

    Now, it’s understandable that you as a non-settling party would want to do everything in your power to obfuscate the issues, the court’s orders, and obstruct the NCSD every step of the way, which you have done and continue to do. Of course, if you were a stipulating party your conduct would most likely subject you and your entire group–whoever they are to sanctions under the order.

    Again, I have no illusions of persuading you to change your opinions. My only purpose in responding is to point out that you have and continue to misrepresent what the court order and stipulation say.

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