Low well levels prompt special meeting Monday in Cambria

Permit restriction means one of two aquifers can't be used; estimates say not enough left in the other to meet demand

betling@thetribunenews.comSeptember 6, 2013 

The estuary at the mouth of Santa Rosa Creek in Cambria is dry on Friday, rendering superfluous a 'Restricted Fishing' sign intended to protect steelhead trout, an endangered species. A nearby monitoring well has fallen below a trigger point that means the Cambria services district is not allowed to pump from a supply well upstream.

BERT ETLING — betling@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

Plummeting well levels mean Cambria has less water available than it would normally use in the next two months, so services district directors have called a special meeting for Monday morning to consider setting a date for on public hearing to consider charging surcharges on water users.

Low water levels are typical this time of year in the Cambria Community Services District’s primary supply wells in the San Simeon Creek aquifer. What’s different this year is that the district can’t turn to its supply well on the Coast Union High School campus on Santa Rosa Creek. That well is still at usable levels, but a well downstream, near Shamel Park at the creek mouth, has dipped below a trigger point that means the district can't pump from the aquifer.

There are about 101 acre-feet of water left in the San Simeon aquifer, district staff estimates, but about 120 acre-feet of demand is expected over the next two months, before the rainy season begins.

The State Water Resources Control Board imposed the permit condition on the district’s Santa Rosa Creek well to protect the riparian environment in the lower reaches of the creek, which several endangered species depend on as a fresh water source.

The district’s three production wells on San Simeon Creek averaged 3.10 feet on Sept. 3, by far the lowest level in the past 10 years. The next lowest reading at the same time of year was just over 6 feet in 2008, slightly below 2007’s reading.

Water use surcharges were last imposed in 2007. About one-third of Cambria’s water uses paid anywhere from 25 to 450 percent in surcharges for using more than the district’s average residential water use of 12 units of water (nearly 9,000 gallons) per two-month billing period, an average of about 150 gallons per day.

The surcharges were in place from July through December. They reduced water use an estimated 13 percent during the summer and 6 percent in the fall.

Surcharges were also imposed in 2004. Surcharges were considered late in 2008, but rains early in 2009 made it unnecessary.

The district directors’ next regular monthly meeting is on Sept. 26. It’s possible, Director Jim Bahringer confirmed Friday, that a public hearing could be called prior to that to consider imposing surcharges. Monday’s meeting is only intended to discuss the current conditions, not to actually impose the surcharges.

At its meeting Aug. 22, the district board unanimously approved allowing the issuance of the first new intent-to-serve letters, a commitment necessary before prospective property owners can obtain a county building permit, since a water emergency was declared in November 2001. Any such new connections would only be allowed after new water use was offset by a 1.7-to-1 ratio, meaning more water savings would have to be proven than the new building would be expected to use.

The staff report for Monday’s special meeting indicated consideration of issuing the water service commitments would be put off until early next year, partly to allow time for district staff to work with county staff on consideration of loosening the growth limit for the Cambria area, currently set at 0 percent.

The special meeting begins at 10 a.m. at the Veterans Memorial Building, 1000 Main St., Cambria. The open session will be followed by a closed session to discuss with legal counsel the state water board’s notices of violations to the district regarding sewage spills in Cambria in January, October and December 2011.

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