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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on May 8th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 9 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 9

Lawsuit questions Nipomo water project funding

BY CAMILLIA LANHAM

The Mesa Community Alliance has loudly voiced its opposition to the Nipomo Community Services District water pipeline project. After last year’s vote defeated a $26 million version of the proposed project, which would have essentially created a tax district to finance construction, the alliance went into hibernation. But now they’re back and armed with a lawsuit.

“When they resurrected a new way of financing it, which we think is illegal, we sort of dusted off our papers,” said Bill Petrick, secretary of the Mesa Community Alliance. “And [we’re] trying to make ourselves heard again.”

Petrick said the issue at hand is simple: One of the project’s proposed funding sources is a district water reserve fund that exists for repair and replacement of capital assets—or water wells and the infrastructure that goes with them. The district wants to use $4 million from the fund to pay for part of the recently approved $17.5 million water line project to bring 650- to 900-acre feet a year of water to Nipomo from Santa Maria. Petrick said the alliance filed a lawsuit because the group believes that using that money to partially finance a new project is an illegal use of the reserve fund.

District legal counsel Mike Seitz said the district believes it’s well within its rights to use money from the reserve fund to finance a project like the pipeline. There are two theories surrounding that belief.

“It reduces the cost of well maintenance and reduces the need for future wells,” Seitz said. “We believe it’s within the scope of those funds.”

Seitz said installing the pipeline would decrease wear and tear on existing water wells, causing the reserve funds to serve their purpose in a roundabout way.

The second theory is that a four-fifths vote from the district board is needed to change the purpose of the reserve funds. Because the board approved revised financing for the water project 4-1 in April, Seitz said the district did in fact vote to change the funds’ purpose.

“We’re comfortable legally,” Seitz said. “I believe there’s a good shot that the project will move forward unaffected.”

A water pipeline would bring a much-needed additional source of water to Nipomo, an area that’s been locked in a water war since the state handed out its final judgment for water rights in the Santa Maria Groundwater Basin in the mid-’90s. The state mandated the district to buy 2,500 acre-feet of water a year from the city of Santa Maria.

Until the district figures out where to get more water, development and applications for new water rights are stalled in Nipomo because the community is at its water maximum.

Seitz said the district doesn’t believe the lawsuit has any merit, but just in case, the board is probably going to meet in a closed session meeting on May 3 to discuss some potential alternatives to reserve fund money. The district’s next regularly scheduled board meeting is May 22 at 9 a.m. in the boardroom at 148 S. Wilson St. in Nipomo.