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Drought Prompts Pismo Beach Building Moratorium


In Pismo Beach, the California drought now has a direct effect on development. The city council declared a building moratorium in December of 2105.

The three tiered moratorium is a response to reports the state may only be able to allocate 10 percent of normal water allocations to municipalities in 2016. Pismo Beach received 23 percent of its water allocation from the state in 2015, with the remainder coming from San Luis Obispo County. If the county cannot make up the difference in 2016, the city will have a total water supply of approximately 1336.8 acre-feet.

With this possibility in mind, the council voted to immediately trigger the moratorium’s first tier. All building permit applications for vacant lots are suspended. Redevelopment or changes to buildings on existing properties can be approved, but only if the applicant proves the building’s new water usage will be equal or less than its monthly usage in the year before the tier was triggered.

If the water supply falls to less than 1,130 acre-feet, tier two of the moratorium goes into effect. Under tier two, existing permits will continue to be processed. New applications to develop existing property will need to prove the changes will reduce monthly water usage by at least 15 percent.

The third and final tier only goes into effect should water supplies fall to 850 acre-feet or lower. Under tier three rules, changes and development of existing buildings will only be approved if the changes lower monthly water usage by 30 percent. All municipal irrigation will be banned, expect when otherwise directed by city council.

Once a tier is enacted, city council will review whether or not it stays in effect once a month. The moratorium was initially drafted in May of 2015, but was not ratified then as council members were concerned such restrictions could hinder Pismo Beach’s economic growth.

Chances are, council members were right. Building moratoriums will interfere with economic growth, but these are increasingly desperate times for water-hungry California. At present, water conservation trumps almost any other consideration for a municipality, and indeed, for individuals.

Californians really deserve a break. Over the last few years they’re replaced green lawns with drought-resistant plants. They’ve shortened their showers and switched to low-flush toilets. They’ve installed salt-free water softeners in place of water-guzzling salt-based models, fixed leaky pipes, and hoped desperately for rain and snow. It’s all helped, but it seems like Pismo Beach, and the state at large, is going to have to endure this drought for some time to come.

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