Pac ing through the P ines

Pacing through the Pines: Cambria water resources: Waste not, want not

August 2, 2012 

The future of Cambria’s water services and resources will involve plugging up Cambria Community Services District’s wasteful leaks, implementing sustainable conservation projects, and embracing gray water and rainwater harvesting.

But it is unlikely that desalination is on the horizon, notwithstanding the many millions of taxpayer dollars the CCSD has already spent pursuing this phantom objective.

Through simple research one discovers that water ordinances on the books since 1989 are not being enforced. Delving into CCSD’s expenditures and priorities — and interviewing citizens who focus on the CCSD’s tunnel vision when it comes to desal — is eye-opening and poignant.

To wit, spending an estimated $5.2 million for studies — and millions in staff and support — on a project yet to provide a single drop of additional water, is unconscionable. Hence, this raid on the public purse has led some homeowners to take water conservation into their own hands.

Nourishing gardens, trees and other foliage with

free water is not new —

and it’s not for everyone — but given the uncertainty of sufficient rain and the lack of leadership at the CCSD, for some, its time has come.

Local activist Mary Webb, who keeps a watch on water topics, was asked if the CCSD has advocated rainwater harvesting or gray water recycling.

“No. Not at all. They rarely even talk about rainwater or gray water harvesting,” she said. “They have been focused on desal.” Webb also notes that in terms of water conservation, the CCSD’s retrofitting program — equipping Cambria households with “low-flow” shower-heads and toilets — is incomplete.

“Twenty-five percent of residential and commercial facilities have not been retrofitted,” she explains. She is also critical of the fact that strict “landscape ordinances” are on the books but “they have never been enforced.”

Also on the minds of water- watchers is the shocking loss of millions of gallons due to leaky 75-year-old pipe systems and other gaps in CCSD’s structure.

According to the 44-page Greenspace report released in June 2012 ( “A Review of Water Use & Water Management Alternatives in Cambria, California”), the CCSD lost 9.1 percent of the water it retrieved from aquifers in 2011.

Indeed, 62.2 acre-feet of water — 20.3 million gallons — leaked from the aging pipes and/or was stolen. In 2004, 14.7 percent of 772.6 acre-feet — a stunning 36,886,333 gallons —went down a black hole.

In 1992, 20.7 percent was lost; in 1993 it was 17.5 percent; and, in 2000, 14 percent was unaccounted for. Do we sense a trend? Is the sky blue?

Meanwhile, the pathologically stingy weather gods do not bestow consistent rainfall — and yet on average Cambria is blessed with nearly 21 inches of annual rainfall. So why aren’t more homeowners harvesting rainwater?

For one, it’s not cheap to harvest rainwater; and two, no CCSD advocacy or incentive program exists, albeit new buildings on 8,000 square-foot parcels are required to build cisterns that catch at least 3,000 gallons.

Local green plumber Justin Smith offers a third reason. “You cannot put in a rainwater catchment system that saves you much money. You might save up to 10 percent on your water bill, but that’s about it.

“The only reason I install gray water and rainwater systems is because somebody wants to lighten their carbon footprint. You have to have to want to be green.”

Smith, who co-authored the county’s grey water handbook, insists that “Cambria doesn’t have a

water problem, because with all the springs around, we have tons of water. We have a storage problem.”

He asserts that “beneath every few blocks” in Cambria there are “natural springs” that, if tapped, could produce “at least five gallons to fifteen gallons per minute of consistent, sustainable water.”

Meanwhile, Jesse Arnold, who was collecting free precipitation before the term “green” became cool, harvests 4,800 gallons annually in five dark green polyethylene tanks at the high point of his property on Sunbury Ave. He irrigates fruit trees,

grapevines, rose bushes and his garden’s winter squash through gravity flow from the tanks. “I’ve been doing this for about 15 years,” he explained.

If in 15, 10, or even five years, the CCSD continues pouring millions into studies — and continues partnering with the Army Corps of Engineers, a group discredited by boondoggles — it’s likely that more Cambrians will take water management into their own hands.

They will recycle gray water, harvest rainwater, and perhaps even tap into those ubiquitous neighborhood springs Smith so passionately emphasizes and longs to see utilized.

“For our little town to be rocking a million gallons a day of water, and literally only 5 percent going to consumption, that’s a really big problem. We need to change how we are using our water,” Smith declares. To which this columnist adds, touché.

Freelance journalist and Cambria resident John FitzRandolph’s monthly column is special to The Cambrian. Email him at john

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