Nipomo residents concerned about impact on water from new Trilogy development

New phase adding 242 homes and 45-acre vineyard

Nipomo residents concerned about impact on water from new Trilogy development

NIPOMO, Calif. - Tractors now rumble across the hillside at Trilogy at Monarch Dunes, signaling new development at the planned community on the Nipomo Mesa.

Two hundred forty two homes are now under construction at the site, as well as a 45-acre vineyard.

However, not everyone in the surrounding community is excited to see the long-planned project moving forward.

"I'm unhappy that the developers would continue, but I'm really not surprised, that's their business and that's what they do," said Janet Gaussion, who lives nearby, just outside the Trilogy boundary

Like Gaussion, Craig Merrill also lives outside Trilogy. His home is just across the street from where construction on "Phase 2A" is currently happening. Both Merrill and Gaussion say they're concerned about the project's impact on water.

"The issue is the ever-progressive depletion of our ground wells and the fact that the rest of Nipomo is being responsible," said Merrill, referring to the stoppage of new construction in the area.

Merrill has been fighting Shea Homes, the developer of the project, for more than a year.

"What we as neighbors object to, is not the development, but rather the irresponsible development using water that isn't there or won't be there," Merrill said.

After years of prolonged drought, residents such as Merrill and Gaussion are nervous about their water, which is both supplied by wells.

"My well and pump man tells me not to worry, but he tells me not to worry because it could change," said Gaussion, who has lived in her residence for several years.

Trilogy management emphasizes water is a top priority.

"Shea has been building quality homes and communities for nearly half a century. The company is proud of its water conservation efforts and looks forward of continuing to being a responsible member of the community," the company says in a statement.

Trilogy conservation efforts are headed up by Woodlands Mutual Water Company, which is operated by the developer.

"Water resources here are very actively managed," said Woodlands Mutual General Manager Rob Miller. "This is just not something we just hope goes well. We have a long term plan."

Miller says the plan includes recycling water two ways. The first includes reusing treated urban wastewater for golf courses and other common areas. The other way is to recapture and reuse storm water to create what the company calls a "closed-loop."

"We try and take all of the water resources available," said Miller. "Not just pump it out of the ground and use it once, but multiple uses when we recycle it in the wastewater form and when when we use it in the storm water form. We're trying to conserve every drop that we can to limit our extractions from the groundwater basin."

Last year, Shea Homes announced a major switch with the next phase of development. A long-planned golf course was scrapped to make way for a vineyard.

The change to a vineyard, which will be built in two phases, was especially upsetting to Merrill.

"The entire character of this community changes when we lose our water, when the developers are putting in, not just 250 homes, but a vineyard of all things, that takes potable water, more potable water out of the ground, and their claim of using recyclable water is clearly not correct for this type of vineyard," said Merrill.

Merrill was so upset with the project, he personally appealed to the county in an effort to stop it. However, the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission denied his appeal last October.

Woodlands mutual, along with Shea Homes, conducted a survey and notes the vast majority of its residents approve of the vineyard project.

According to survey documents, 83 percent of Trilogy homeowners approve of the vineyard project. They also note 85 percent of county comment letters also were in favor.

Miller admits some potable water will be used for the vineyard, but notes the irrigation will come from a variety of sources.

"Certainly recycled water of this type can be used without restriction on vineyard and also on golf, so we'll be using a blend of well water, treated recycled water and our managed urban storm water, those three sources to irrigate the vineyard," said Miller.

Trilogy management points out irrigation at a vineyard is more efficient than a golf course. They say by using a drip system, instead of overhead spraying, combined with a reduced irrigation schedule, the vineyard will use significantly less water than a golf course.

"We anticipate the annual water usage savings to be 70 acre feet per year, which equates to more than 20 millions gallons a year," said Shea Homes in a statement.

For residents like Merrill concerned about well water, less stress on the aquifer should be good news.

"In the last year and a half, we've had to lower our well once," said Merrill. "I know of neighbors just down this street who have already lost their water, and some down the other street who are trying to sell their home."

Shea Homes says pumping around the area has actually gone down, and will continue to drop, especially after a permanent connection with the Nipomo Community Services District is complete within the next two years.

The agreement with the NCSD will allow Woodlands Mutual to purchase up to 16 percent of water piped in annually from Santa Maria.

"Our portion of that is substantial," said Miller. "416 acre feet will come here to this property by the time that project is complete and flowing at full force."

The amount comes out to more than 135 million gallons of water annually for Trilogy.

Still, with water always an unpredictable resource, neighbors outside the development remain skeptical and uncertain what the future holds.

"I don't see this as something that's just going to work out," said Gaussion. I don't see that, but maybe."

Trilogy management notes the first residents will move in to the new development by this fall. The first 45-acre portion of the vineyard should be completed by early this summer.

When completed, Trilogy at Monarch Dunes will include 1,320 homes. The community will also include a business park, which is now under construction, as well as a village retail center and resort.

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