New water hookups likely to get approval in Cambria

Ordinance would let services district OK ‘a few’ building starts by property owners

The CambrianAugust 21, 2013 

When Cambria services district directors meet Thursday, they’ll hear that the town’s water supply is dwindling rapidly in this extra dry year. However, board members also are expected to approve an ordinance that would allow them to release “a few” of the coveted intent-to-serve letters that would permit property owners to start building new homes.

Under the ordinance, fixture and other retrofits mandated for new construction by the Cambria Community Services District’s ramped-up water-conservation program would compensate for water used in those new structures.

It’s not known whether the district’s Board of Directors will release those letters Thursday, but at least two directors, Amanda Rice and Muril Clift, have said they believe it may not happen until the board’s Sept. 26 meeting.

While the estimate of up to 20 letters per year for two years has been bandied about, Rice said, “If I have anything to say about it, it won’t be 20.”

A previous board imposed a moratorium on new water connections in November 2001, based on a declared water emergency. The board removed the moratorium this year, but the official water-emergency declaration remains in effect.

There are 665 vacant properties on the district’s “water wait list,” which has been closed to new sign-ups since 1990.

The county currently has a zero growth rate for Cambria. Officials there and at the California Coastal Commission would have to sign off on the district’s “retrofit to build” ordinance and/or any intent-to-serve letters issued under it before anybody could begin to build.

Water levels

The district’s well water levels for Aug. 15, as shown on a chart in the staff report for Thursday’s meeting, were 5.74 feet as the average in San Simeon Creek wells, a drop of about 5 feet in the past month. San Simeon Creek wells are considered full at about 20 feet.

The level is 50.77 feet in the district’s Santa Rosa Creek well near Leffingwell High School. However, a crucial monitoring well farther downstream on Santa Rosa Creek showed a reading of 2.95 feet Aug. 15. According to the district’s permit to withdraw water from the creek, that level is not supposed to dip lower than 3 feet, to protect habitat for federally protected species.

Rice said Tuesday that the district had stopped pumping from Santa Rosa Creek a week earlier because the water in the monitoring-well was so low. She said that since then, the level had risen to 2.99 feet, and was continuing to rise.

Other concerns

District staff and directors aren’t the only ones paying close attention to the sinking water levels in the community’s wells.

Rice said General Manager Jerry Gruber met Monday with ranchers Jon Pedotti, who ranches and farms in the San Simeon Creek aquifer, and Mike Broadhurst, who farms in the Santa Rosa Creek aquifer. Rice said she understands that meeting went “really well.”

Gruber also met Monday with other staffers and Rice and Director Gail Robinette of the Water Conservation Ad Hoc Committee.

“Staff is monitoring the well levels daily,” Rice said. “They’re making sure we’re meeting all the requirements and calculating out how much we might be short if we don’t get rain until December. I’m comfortable with how they’re keeping tabs on it” and with a new kind of computer modeling for water supply.

Based on what the staff members reported, Rice said, “I don’t think we’ll be doing surcharges” for above-average water use. She said staffers were considering doing monthly meter readings, especially for customers that use a lot of water; the current practice is doing meter readings every two months.

Riparian landowners

The Cambria district and its directors got a letter Monday from 16 people who have rights to withdraw water from the San Simeon Creek watershed. The letter expressed their concerns about the health of the watershed.

Those who signed the letter own property along the creek and are therefore considered riparian landowners. That means their rights to water from the creek’s watershed trump the district’s rights.

The letter says “the creek and its tributaries are extraordinarily dry.” It notes that riparian landowners “have significantly reduced their pumping. Our experience tells us that if the CCSD can’t meet the dry-season allotment now, it certainly can’t if they (the agriculturists) were pumping their full legal allotment.”

The letter signers said they were startled recently to find “a puddle of green slime at the end of San Simeon Creek, west of the Highway 1 bridge. This green algae bloom depletes the oxygen in the water” and is caused when phosphates enter the estuary. “Algae have a deleterious effect on any aquatic fauna,” including the “tidewater goby, an endangered species.”

Rice said she attended the meeting at which the San Simeon Creek landowners approved sending the letter, and “I totally support what they did. … It’s a really, really dry year in the upper reaches” of the watershed. The letter expresses “genuine concern that the district is paying attention … and managing the resource appropriately.”

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