According to the water re-use reduction targets in the volunteer group’s Basin Management Plan, the goal is to have each household and non-household use 33% less water, effectively reducing the monthly usage rates while aggressively reducing the effects of saltwater intrusion. “[Saltwater intrusion] is much worse than people think,” says the group’s Keith Wimer. “We have a serious problem that can’t be avoided any longer—and the [County's wastewater] project has got to address it.”
The Los Osos Sustainability Group (LOSG), made up of homeowners and residents dedicated to a sustainable Los Osos wastewater project, has provided the County with a comprehensive set of water conservation solutions for Los Osos. At the same time, the LOSG has also raised the awareness level, particularly with the Planning Commission, on the greatest threat to the Los Osos water basin—saltwater intrusion—and why it must be factored into the project from the onset.
With County project planning well underway, the LOSG presented their water management plan to the Board of Supervisors, but it wasn’t seriously considered—not until it was presented before the Planning Commission on June 29. At the meeting, LOSG spokesperson Keith Wimer explained the urgent need to implement the group’s plan as he vividly illustrated with projected graphics the issue of saltwater intrusion for the commissioners.
“[Saltwater intrusion] is much worse than people think,” said Wimer. “We have a serious problem that can’t be avoided any longer – and the project has got to address it.”
Saltwater intrusion is the movement of saline water into freshwater aquifers. In this case, the freshwater aquifer is located in the Los Osos basin. Leaving the issue of saltwater intrusion unaddressed would—over time—leave the Los Osos water basin contaminated with salt water, destroying the drinking water supply, a result too commonly seen in other coastal communities.
Based on estimates provided in the 2005 Seawater Intrusion Assessment by Cleath & Associates, Wimer claimed that saltwater intrusion has moved further inland and deeper into the freshwater aquifer even more dramatically since 2005, compared to the levels of intrusion from 1985. At the current rate of saltwater intrusion, in three years, says Wimer, Los Osos will lose its water basin.
“[Saltwater intrusion] will kill the water basin faster than nitrates,” said Wimer.
Supporters of the County’s wastewater project have placed a heavy emphasis on eliminating nitrates from the groundwater as their strongest justification for the project, but until recently, only a few of those supporters have expressed concern over saltwater intrusion.
Wimer’s response to the water basin issues appeared in the form of a Basin Management Plan—prepared by him and the LOSG—which was originally presented to the Board of Supervisors; however, the board unanimously declined to acknowledge the plan.
In the February 2009 Draft Update of the plan, the executive summary reads, “[The plan] applies a sustainable development approach, using green and appropriate technologies to optimize water-use efficiency, the beneficial uses of available water sources, and the natural rainwater recharge of the Los Osos Valley Water Basin. Applying an integrated approach to the water-use element of the LOWWP affords a cost-effective means of avoiding project impacts, while taking major strides toward achieving basin sustainability.”
The plan includes retrofitting homes with indoor water-saving appliances from dishwaters to toilets as a means of not only saving money per household, but saving water by drastically reducing the amount used from 60 gallons per capita per day (gpcd) to at least 45 gpcd. The plan also provides suggestions for conserving water outdoors.
According to the water re-use reduction targets in the plan, the goal is to have each household use 33% less water, effectively reducing the monthly usage rates while aggressively reducing the effects of saltwater intrusion.
The plan also provides flexible strategies for homeowners who are not fully committed to the conservation plan, adding that it’s not always necessary to replace fixtures and appliances when tweaking pre-existing appliances would also help conserve water.
The second half of the plan focuses on developing community strategies for ag exchange, urban re-use and wastewater treatment systems as a means of maximizing the benefits of recycled water.
The money saved from water conservation, as a result of implementing core strategies conveyed in the LOSG’s plan, would be significant. The homeowner’s costs to retrofit could be reduced even further by grants. The County needs to embrace the LOSG’s set of solutions if they are serious about preserving our most valuable resource. Failure to heed the LOSG’s warnings and take action to conserve water now will undoubtedly contribute to the rapid disintegration of the Los Osos water basin, forcing imported water upon an already taxed-out community.
Homeowners in the Prohibition Zone must be vigilant in making sure the County addresses these vital issues. Endlessly debating groundwater pollution will do nothing to stem saltwater intrusion or protect our threatened drinking water supply from our own inability to manage it.
Many groups have tried to get their message heard before the County, but the LOSG has been the only organization in Los Osos that has provided realistic solutions to serious problems that the County has yet to address—and must, not later but now.
The LOSG is effective because their level of discourse is markedly different from other community groups, and far superior. Because the LOSG uses the most unique and powerful instruments of persuasion—solid, science-backed information, sound reason and irrefutable logic.
— Aaron Ochs