Allowing too many connections too soon? Or too few?

Cambria services district directors expected to take another step today on road to issuing new water connections

San Luis Obispo - The TribuneJuly 25, 2013 

Another turn in the move to open up Cambria’s water tap to new connections is expected today, even as opponents of the move start a petition and gain support of an advisory panel.

At their regular monthly meeting today, Cambria Community Services District directors will consider ordinance changes that would allow the release of some intent-to-serve letters for new development, even though an official declaration of water-supply emergency is still in place.

The water emergency declared in 2001 triggered an immediate moratorium on issuing new water connections, with a handful of exceptions. But on March 21, district directors removed that ban and it’s expected they could take further steps at their Aug. 22 meeting to allow release of up to 20 new connections a year for two years while the district tries to identify and develop a new supplemental source of water.

After years of remaining officially silent about the district’s water woes, the North Coast Advisory Council, which advises county officials on issues under county purview, voted 7-2 vote on July 17 to recommend that Cambria should not approve permits for any new development until the town has a new source of water, in addition to conservation programs district directors have approved.

And Tina Dickason, a regular commenter at board meetings who was a leader in opposing the last round of district rate hikes as initially proposed, began circulating a petition opposing allowing new water connections on July 15.

The petition, which says future development without a new water source puts “residents at risk by jeopardizing our diminishing water supply even further,” is directed at county and state officials who will have to sign off before new connections come online.

The petition states, “Cambria continues to be in a water shortage emergency … water usage is increasing,” and this is “a drought year.”

But services district Director Amanda Rice wrote in an email July 15 that the decision to issue intent to serve letters “is independent of whether or not it is a dry year.”

She said, “I believe it would be irresponsible and short-sighted to base our issuance of intent-to-serve letters on any current year’s amount of rain, dry or wet. We must consider the bigger picture. That means looking at the demand for water over the long term — for those new connections and our current customers.”

Rice noted that “we are not relying on behavior changes or choices of Cambrians to further reduce their water use so more is available for new neighbors.” Instead, she said, the idea is to require each new project to retrofit enough plumbing fixtures in other structures to save twice the water the new building would use.

In March, county supervisors put off consideration of increasing Cambria’s current allowable growth rate of zero percent.

Supervisor Bruce Gibson told the NCAC on July 17 that the county is reviewing the district’s request to increase its development cap. That review is designed “to see if any change to the growth-management ordinance (limit for Cambria) is appropriate,” he said. “It’s quite clear that the (district) has the authority on water supply in Cambria, but the county has authority on land use. We’ll be looking at what the (district) proposes to see if it makes sense.”

It’s not making sense to longtime area rancher Jon Pedotti, whose property borders district land on San Simeon Creek Road.

He told The Cambrian Tuesday, July 23, that “The riparian landowners who share the watersheds with the district were pretty much blindsided by this action to release intent-to-serves. It sends the message that Cambria doesn’t have a water problem, and therefore it is not necessary for us riparian users to continue to voluntarily reduce our pumping. I can only assume that the CCSD decision makers are not familiar with the history or the limited capacity of our local aquifers.”

But property owners on the 665-name water connection wait list, including Deryl Robinson, president of United Lot Owners of Cambria, have praised the district, saying its action is “a big step after 12 years of moratorium.”

It’s not enough for others on the list, however.

Joan Linton of Walnut Creek, who holds wait-list position 213, wrote July 23 that the proposed action “is ‘business as usual’ in Cambria. The distribution rate of intent to serve letters is too late … too slow.” She said it appears to be “yet another obstruction for the lot owners of Cambria,” and “it will take those who currently hold water-meter positions in the 600s more than 60 years to be able to build on their land.”

Today’s district board meeting starts at 12:30 p.m. at the Veterans Memorial Building, 1000 Main St.

Follow Kathe Tanner on Twitter at @CambriaReporter.

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