Cambria must set water rules, revise growth cap

Further conservation steps are needed to address wait list

April 1, 2013 

Like many thirsty communities in California, Cambria faces two challenges: Develop a new source of water — a goal Cambria has so far failed to achieve — and come up with an equitable way to divvy up existing water supplies. That’s exactly what the Cambria Community Services District hopes to accomplish with its “conserve to build” program.

By taking advantage of the latest water-saving technology, Cambria officials believe they can make the community’s existing supply of water stretch even further, and can safely allow a limited number of new water connections.

The idea isn’t new; it’s been used for years in other communities, including Nipomo, Los Osos and Paso Robles. But because Cambria’s been under such severe water restrictions, it’s causing more of a ripple there.

We support the Cambria plan, provided the Community Services District can demonstrate that conservation measures will reliably net enough water to serve additional customers.

To be clear, by “customers” we aren’t talking about out-of-town developers looking to build mega-subdivisions of million-dollar mansions.

We’re talking about families who purchased land in good faith — in some cases decades ago — under the belief that the zoning in place at that time would permit them to develop their land.

With the declaration of a water emergency and building moratorium in 2001, though, they’ve been in limbo; 665 are on a waiting list — hoping for anew water source that’s still likely to be many years away.

If conservation measures — such as super-low-flow toilets and water-saving washing machines — can free up enough water to allow even a handful of the 665 “wait listees” to be served, we believe there’s an ethical obligation to allow that.

We apply that same principle to every other California community that’s struggling with water shortages.

Unless we want to bar the gate and keep out all newcomers, we are going to have to make existing supplies go further, and relying on water-saving technology from 10 years ago isn’t going to do it.

Take toilets, for example: Most low-flow toilets use 1 to 1.5 gallons per flush, yet new toilets are available that use even less water — ahuge savings, when you multiply out over hundreds of customers.

That’s the type of technology that Cambria plans to promote, through rebate programs and other incentives.

The devil, though, is in the details; the district must establish rules for the conservation program.

And that’s not the only hurdle. The county will have to revise the community’s growth cap, which is set at 0 percent, before it can issue any building permits.

The Coastal Commission — which can review building permits on appeal — will likely want to sign off as well.

And even with the blessing of the county and Coastal Commission, there’s a strong likelihood that a legal challenge could be mounted by nonprofit organizations and/or private individuals opposed to growth.

In other words, the Cambria Community Services District has a way to go before it can open the spigot, but the payoff will be worth it.

It will provide relief to some of the property owners who have been waiting so long to develop their parcels.

It will create construction jobs and provide tax revenue for a community affected not only by the recession, but also by a building moratorium.

And it will serve as a model of what a community can accomplish through the old-fashioned concept of conservation.

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