Getting water flowing
San Mateo County officials say they are closer to delivering potable water to Pescadero Middle and High School now that plans are in place to move the town’s fire station closer to the school. Review file photo

Pescadero’s middle and high school campus has been without clean drinking water for nearly two decades. Now, help is on the way.

Leaders at San Mateo County are making slow but significant progress expanding County Service Area No. 11, Pescadero’s special utility district, established in 1988, to provide clean drinking water to local residents and businesses. The extension would connect the Pescadero school and a new fire station planned for the area to the water line.

County Management Analyst Sophie Mintier, who is leading the project planning, said the first steps in the process, the preliminary environmental and engineering work, should be complete by November or December of this year. The full scope of the project was finalized earlier this spring. Then, Mintier said, the initial project plans and amended Local Coastal Program will have to go through a string of approval processes from the Agricultural Advisory Committee, Pescadero Municipal Advisory Council, the county Planning Commission, the county Board of Supervisors and, finally, the California Coastal Commission for certification.

And that’s only for preliminary plans. After the LCP amendment is certified, the designs would go back to the environmental and engineering stages to provide detailed plans for review. Mintier said it will likely be a few years until the project is completed, but that the forward progress is encouraging.

“Things are moving, which is great,” Mintier said. “I know the community has been watching this and waiting on this.”

Since the late 1990s, staff, students and visitors have been drinking state-supplied bottled water. And after a well serving the school showed unhealthy levels of nitrate in 2015, it was shut off, forcing staff to use bottled water for cooking, too.

Chris Hunter, chief of staff to County Supervisor Don Horsley, said getting this project done remains a priority for Horsley and his office. At first, the project was going to require a countywide election, but Horsley pushed to avoid the arduous process of a public vote simply to expand CSA 11 by mirroring the strategy used to get Half Moon Bay’s Johnston House online. Hunter also confirmed that funding for the project is secure, even as the COVID-19 pandemic shifts state and county budgets.

Mintier agreed that the funding is safe. She said last year the school was approved for funding under Proposition 1 from the California State Water Resources Control Board, and added that all of the processes involved in the CSA 11 water line extension to the school — including the planning, engineering and environmental work associated with the project — will be funded by the state.

Meanwhile, the county will fund and execute the construction of the new fire station, which is also set to benefit from CSA 11’s extension, and any spur needed to get water to it. Mintier said the school may need to pay for internal repiping to make its old infrastructure compatible with the new system, but she said the state may also be able to take on that cost.

Part of Mintier’s job is to find ways to accelerate the schedule of the project. She said combining approvals for the fire station and school can help avoid duplicating environmental review and other approval processes, which are already lengthy. Mintier also said she’s paying close attention to the capacity of CSA 11: A prior study found the system to be healthy with a long lifespan, but Mintier said she’ll be reevaluating the system to see if the additions change anything. And once both the school and fire station are hooked up, she said they will be metered and monitored to make sure residents’ water rates don’t increase as a result.

“We are trying to be mindful of the cost of the project and if water rates will increase, because we know it’s an issue,” Mintier said.

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