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Central Coast Water Authority May Hire Buyer to Find Water for Sale

The Central Coast Water Authority wants to find additional water for sale, but the board still has concerns about hiring an independent water broker.

Board members want changes to the proposed contracts, so the water purchase program will come back to the board at a special meeting next Wednesday.

The CCWA owns and operates the pipelines that deliver State Water Project water to 13 agencies in Santa Barbara County and southern San Luis Obispo County. Eight of the public water agencies have representatives on the CCWA board.

Since reservoirs are low and the State Water Project isn’t delivering any water in 2014, local water agencies are looking for outside sources. Some have been looking individually, but the CCWA is exploring a water purchase program that water districts could join.

On Thursday, the board rejected an exclusivity clause, which would tie the CCWA to using only Sierra Water Group and paying the firm 5 percent of each purchase price.

“That’s causing a lot of problems with some of my project participants,” CCWA Executive Director Ray Stokes said.

Instead, the proposed contracts would have the CCWA hire Sierra Water Group at an hourly rate as a consultant.

Part of the problem with an exclusivity clause is that several member agencies — Montecito, Santa Barbara and Solvang — are already using the same water broker firm. It was CCWA agencies that recommended this firm in the first place, according to the agenda.

Sierra Water Group and its CEO Eric Robbins have worked for Santa Maria and many other California cities in the past.

Stokes still doesn’t know how many of the 13 member agencies would join the water purchase program, but guessed four or five would sign up.

As a reaction to dwindling local supplies, the CCWA is trying to find water for sale that can actually be delivered to Santa Barbara County.

Buying water north of the Delta may be a pipe dream by now, since water can only be transferred through the delta from July to September and, without significant storms, the delta could have too much saltwater intrusion and be incapable of moving water through it by then.

“We may enter a contract to buy some water but not be able to get it out in the end,” Stokes said. “That’s a real concern.”

The CCWA wants to buy 4,000 to 5,000 acre-feet of water this year, but a recent threat to the system’s banked carryover water could make that number go way up.

Many water districts have stored (or “banked”) unused water in San Luis Reservoir and CCWA regularly pumps it into Lake Cachuma so agencies can use it. The state Department of Water Resources “may cut back to 60 percent of what’s stored there, which would further exacerbate the problem,” Stokes said.

If deliveries — moving water from that reservoir to Santa Barbara County — are cut, water could only be pumped for “health and safety purposes”:  55 gallons per capita per day for each agency.

It’s not official, but the CCWA wants to plan for the worst.

If the board approves the contracts next week, water agencies can start signing water purchase program agreements with the CCWA.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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