CCSD: Water levels adequate, surcharges unlikely

ktanner@thetribunenews.comJuly 18, 2013 

As Cambria Community Services District directors discuss releasing some intent-to-serve letters for water service — after a dozen years under a moratorium that said they couldn’t do that — their focus also is on how much water really is in the district’s wells and the creeks that support them.

The decision on releasing the intent-to-serves (which property owners need in order to build) likely won’t happen until the Aug. 22 meeting, according to board President Mike Thompson.

The district draws water to the community out of two aquifers: A set of wells near San Simeon Creek, the primary source, and one well off Santa Rosa Creek near Leffingwell High School, which the district identifies as SR4.

In mid-June, San Simeon well levels dipped to 13.6 feet, the lowest in the last 10 years. In 2007, the next-lowest year, the well was at 14.21 feet and directors imposed a surcharge on water use to discourage waste from July through December, the longest such period ever.

That was following the district’s driest rain ever, 9.52 inches in the 2006-2007 year. (The district was founded in 1976.) In the rain year that ended June 30, the district recorded 10.44 inches of rain.

Average annual rainfall from 1973 through 2012 was 20.80 inches.

Still, officials say the town’s aquifers have an adequate supply to get ratepayers and visitors through the summer-and-fall dry spell.

According to a water-supply computer model run June 6, said Director Amanda Rice, a member of the district’s Conservation Ad Hoc Committee, “the projected supply from San Simeon and Santa Rosa” wells “would meet the projected demand” and declaration of a “Stage 1, 2 or 3 water emergency is not required … the model said we’re good to go … if we stay on the path we’re on in terms of being smart water users.”

General Manager Jerry Gruber told The Cambrian in a conference call Tuesday, July 16, that staff regularly monitors the wells, the creeks and the supply, keeping district directors updated often.

So, surcharges (additional charges tacked onto water bills when the customer’s usage is higher than the community’s norm) aren’t yet on the district’s menu.

Gruber said that “at this point, there’s no need to go into surcharges.”

Low water

Surface supplies in both creeks are dwindling, as is typical during the dry season. Creek pools are drying up and steelhead trout dying in the sun-warmed, shallow water.

District officials say Santa Rosa Creek continues to flow above and below the SR4 well, but San Simeon Creek is drying, as is the norm.

However, keeping as much water as possible in each well system is a delicate balancing act that requires constant monitoring, which is what some of the recent repairs and pricey new electronic equipment on the SR4 well are designed to help accomplish.

Castle conserving

Some others already have taken action to curb excessive water use.

Earl Moon, Hearst Castle’s longtime water and sewage plant supervisor, wrote in a July 16 email that ranch reservoirs that supply water to the Castle “are just above 70 percent capacity … due to the low rainfall total this past season, water conservation measures have been implemented.”

A May 23 water-conservation memo “places restrictions on wasteful irrigation practices, contract work that involves water consumption, washing of vehicles or facilities” and requires increased use of mulch at irrigation sites. The memo also asks all water users (including visitors) to conserve, with advisory signs posted.

The state hasn’t yet begun augmenting the supply by hauling water to the historical monument from a well at William Randolph Hearst Memorial Beach, as was the case in some other ultra-dry years.

Owners of agricultural land also have concerns.

“San Simeon Creek is dry all the way to the upper reaches of the watershed,” said Bill Bianchi, a creekside landowner and physicist who holds a doctorate in soils and water sciences. “There’s no water flowing under the bridge crossing that goes into the Williams Ranch. It’s exceptionally dry.”

He said conditions would be even drier if neighbor Jon Pedotti had been irrigating crops with his riparian-rights water from the San Simeon Creek watershed, as he usually does.

Pedotti said he didn’t irrigate all last year or so far this year, but plans to do some limited plantings later this summer. “We’re trying to work with the district,” he said. “We understand that the community is in a pickle … we’re all sort of making sacrifices, not irrigating, trying to get Cambria over the hump” until the town finds a new source of supplemental water.

Some ratepayers, too, have been sounding the alarm, saying the creeks are drying earlier than usual and water use is going up, not down, as called for in the district’s recently ramped-up conservation plan.

In 2012, the district pumped 724.74 acre-feet of water, up 6 percent from 682.88 in 2011 — but down 10 percent from the recent high of 809.48 acre-feet in 2002 and 12 percent from the peak year of 819.50 feet in 1988.

Follow Kathe Tanner on Twitter at @CambriaReporter.

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