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Regional recycled water project in conflict; Arroyo Grande 'demanding' equal share

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The City of Pismo Beach
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Central Coast Blue, which has been led by Pismo Beach, would inject treated wastewater into the belowground Santa Maria Valley Groundwater Basin, protecting it against seawater intrusion and drought.

A long-planned water recycling project for the Five Cities area — Central Coast Blue — hangs in uncertainty after the City of Arroyo Grande unanimously voted on June 8th to withdraw from the project unless their demand for a shared operating agreement is met.

Central Coast Blue, spearheaded by the City of Pismo Beach, is a multi-million dollar project set to bring a reliable water source to the Five Cities area by using recycled water. But the City of Arroyo Grande is having second thoughts, after Mayor Caren Ray-Russom said their demand to have equal decision making governance over the project was ignored.

"Right now, Pismo Beach has all the decision making authority — 100%," Ray-Russom said. " And as the majority stakeholder in the project at 41%, we felt that wasn’t the right decision for our taxpayers.”

Ray-Russom said in a letter sent to Pismo and Grover Beach, Arroyo Grande also requested to have a project management committee formed, which would be subject to public meetings and the Brown Act — the state’s open-meeting law. 

“We specifically made two demands to our other two partner agencies," Ray-Russom said. "and those have not been addressed, they've been ignored."

Pismo Beach and Grover Beach responded to the letter by asking Arroyo Grande city councilmembers to agree to meet in a public forum to discuss their concerns.

But Mayor Ray-Russom said because the two cities ignored the two demands in the letter,  the city of Arroyo Grande doesn’t feel comfortable continuing to pay money towards the project without assurance of commitment to equal voting. 

Pismo Beach Mayor Ed Waage declined KCBX's request for an interview but stated in part, “The City of Pismo Beach is incredibly disappointed in the action of the Arroyo Grande City Council to not move forward with Central Coast Blue." 

"Our request for a public meeting of all three city councils to work through issues in a transparent manner was denied. As partner agencies, we worked in good faith and expended funds to the benefit of our collective communities. Arroyo Grande is refusing to pay their share of the costs,” Waage said.

Mayor Ray-Russom said Arroyo Grande is still hopeful the cities can reach an agreement on the Central Coast Blue project. 

“Arroyo Grande has not said we are dropping out of Central Coast Blue. What we said was the letter we received back was non-responsive to the letter we sent them, and they need to tell us whether and how they would attempt to institute an equal voting structure," Ray-Russom said. "Until they commit to that, we are not agreeing to pay money to go forward.”

While the partnership on Central Coast Blue is stuck in political conflict, both the Pismo Beach and Arroyo Grande mayors said they are committed to finding solutions in achieving water security in the drought-stricken areas.

Angel Russell is a former KCBX News reporter who started her career in journalism as a reporter and producer for KREX on Colorado's Western Slope; she later moved to the Central Coast to work for KSBY as weekend anchor and weekday reporter. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, and playing guitar and piano.
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