Neil: Water supply in good shape

No watering restrictions anticipated over summer

ATASCADERO — Atascadero Mutual Water Company General Manager John Neil spoke to the Atascadero City Council Tuesday to provide an update on the health of the city’s water supply in the face of a drier than normal winter.

Atascadero was at just 3.34 inches of rain for the year at the time of the meeting, Neil said, adding that there is little chance of hitting our normal average of 13 inches for the year.

“The likelihood of getting average rainfall is basically zero at this point, although we have had March rainfall totals as much as 13 inches,” he said.

Although it has been a dry year so far, it isn’t the driest on record. Looking back at 105 years of AMWC historical rainfall data, the driest year on record so far was 1924. That year Atascadero had only received 2.5 inches by March.

“This is likely not going to be the driest year, but it will be a dry year,” Neil said. “Fortunately, the groundwater basin we draw water from is very resilient. The rain that we got last year (29 inches) essentially filled the Atascadero basin. So we started out the peak irrigation season with fairly high levels.”

When gauging the health of the city’s water supply, Neil said that he looks more at well levels than he does at rainfall. On a good year, Neil said that well levels should be somewhere around 18 feet below ground level. During the height of the drought in 2015, AMWC well levels dropped to 97 feet below the surface. This year, they’ve been averaging about 36 feet below the surface, Neil said.

“So groundwater is diminishing,” he said. “But we haven’t been taking any Nacimiento water.”

Atascadero, Paso Robles, Templeton and San Luis Obispo all bought into the Nacimiento Pipeline Project, completed in 2011, which provides 17,500 acre-feet of water to the county. Neil said that Atascadero hasn’t been using its share of Nacimiento water, because there has been no need over the winter months, but it started pumping one acre-foot (about 1 million gallons per day) from Lake Nacimiento on March 1.

“That will be put into our recharge basin and that will bring those well levels up,” Neil said.

Neil said that water demand in Atascadero has actually been declining for years now thanks to conservation and education efforts after peaking around 2000. Current water demand is the same as it was in 1983, Neil said.

“We do not anticipate a water shortage condition,” he said. “So we’re not going to be asking for conservation measures, we’re not going to be implementing watering restrictions as far as the number of days of the week. We’re in good shape going into the summer.”

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