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Blake Warren – ON THE HOOK

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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Carpe Tunnel
Water. It is a commodity that is as highly valuable as it ever has been in the entirety of human history, and that is no more on display than it is right here in the Golden State. The half-decade (or longer) drought which California just most recently experienced only served to accentuate the increased value and demand for precious agua even further. Now water — not much unlike some of the earth’s other natural resources like gas and oil that our world depends on — sits at the crux of political contention and is now (and quietly has been for some time) a serious issue for countless parties throughout the state.

The ongoing Delta tunnel debate. The clamoring over water releases from various reservoirs. The increased cost of water purchases. And now, a simple microcosm of the issue has reared its head in the form of the expected six-month delay of an interlake tunnel project between Lake Nacimiento and Lake San Antonio on the Central Coast.

The project proposal, which calls for the construction of a tunnel running from Nacimiento to San Antonio to allow for water diversions to San Antone during high water years, is being delayed due to resistance from Naci landowners in northern San Luis Obispo County who aren’t thrilled with the idea of project consultants accessing their property to drill a series of geotechnical boreholes as part of the project engineering. As of now, only one of six of the most primarily affected landowners has agreed to allow access to their property, which has pushed the target date for securing the necessary permits and key engineer reports for the project to late in 2018, and the required tax assessment vote for the project to February of 2019 at the earliest.

The big trigger word now being tossed around as a result is “eminent domain,” an extremely sore spot of contention for countless folks across the country over generations in the United States over the course of its relatively short 241-year history. In a recent letter to landowners, the Nacimiento Water Committee indicated that it intends to “invoke eminent domain against these recalcitrant landowners.” The landowners who have remained firmly resistant to the project maintain that they weren’t provided satisfactory indemnification against property damage and the loss of their wells.

In that letter, provided by Nacimiento Water Committee Director Bing Smith, about 50 or so were warned that the project “may adversely affect your property rights, including but not limited to the continuing viability and availability of your well water,” and suggests the proposal could “disrupt the use, as well as the quiet enjoyment, of your property for years.” Also at issue is the almost-inevitable migration of white bass from Naci to San Antone — voracious feeders that can significantly affect a lake’s ecosystem.

Eminent domain proceedings would, however, require the help of San Luis Obispo County, and Supervisor John Peschong has said that he would oppose the process and promised that at least three other supervisors would also vote against the move.

A tunnel project information meeting is set for Friday, Sept. 22 at Heritage Ranch Village’s Senior Center near Lake Nacimiento, at which a number of local landowners are expected to attend and be heard. Several committee members and Peschong are expected to attend the meeting as well, according to Jim Johnson at the Monterey Herald.

With the two lakes being just about 5 miles apart, one would think that this tunnel project wouldn’t be such a big deal — and it likely wouldn’t have been just 20-or-so years ago — but for those directly involved and impacted, it most certainly is a big deal indeed.

If nothing else, it all just serves as a staunch reminder of just how precious our natural resources are, and that if we don’t all do our part to seriously protect and conserve them, they WILL all inevitably become a political matter, rather than a simple “living life” matter, which we’ve all become far too accustomed to and most often just merely take for granted.

Indeed, water is as valuable and in as high of demand as ever before, and we can all expect a whole lot more of just this kind of thing throughout the State of California and beyond in the future years ahead. It’s no doom and gloom, folks. Just a simple reality of modern times.

Many of the facts and the information in this column are attributed to the original reporting of Jim Johnson of the Monterey Herald.

LAKE NACIMIENTO AT nearly 90 percent of capacity in April. A proposed tunnel project that is due to connect Naci with Lake San Antonio and deliver water to San Antone during high water years has recently been delayed.

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