Grave water concerns plague Cambria

Community Services District considers conservation measures with well levels low

ktanner@thetribunenews.comSeptember 18, 2013 

JOE TARICA

Correction: This article has been edited to remove the word "dangerously" from a paragraph attributed to services district General Manager Jerry Gruber. He did not use that word to describe well levels.

Faced with the likelihood that demand for water will exceed the amount available, Cambria Community Services District directors will review options to limit use and supplement supply at a special meeting Friday.

Well levels at Cambria’s prime water source on San Simeon Creek are at the lowest levels since 1989, which was the second consecutive year of well-below average rainfall, just as this year is.

Usually the district would turn to its well on Santa Rosa Creek, but a repair and upgrade of the Santa Rosa well prevented its use in the spring. A license restriction intended to protect the creek environment prevented that well’s use until the monitoring well recently rose above 3 feet, the cutoff level.

“Now that we are able to run the (Santa Rosa Creek) well, the community’s water supply outlook is much more positive,” district General Manager Jerry Gruber wrote in an email Tuesday. “I feel if we are able to let the San Simeon Well Field rest, we should start to see it trend upward.”

As of Monday, the monitoring well was at 3.11 feet, just over an inch above the level that allows Cambria to use the Santa Rosa Creek well, which is relatively full.

Being able to pump from there — even part-time — could allow the low level in the San Simeon Creek aquifer to recover somewhat, perhaps reducing the shortfall of 19 acre-feet that staff estimates could occur during the usually dry months of September and October, Gruber said.

“The 19 acre-feet estimate was based on not being able to run (that) well at all,” he told The Tribune.

The services district has asked residents to voluntarily increase conservation efforts, including eliminating all outdoor water use.

CCSD options

The services district can declare one of three drought stages — a Stage 1 “drought watch condition”; a Stage 2 “water shortage condition” with surcharges levied on all water use “in excess of the maximum water-use allotment” to reduce consumption by 15 percent; and a Stage 3 “water shortage emergency condition,” to conserve water for human consumption, sanitation and fire protection.

As of late Wednesday, no declaration had been issued.

The average level in San Simeon Creek wells was at a near-all-time low of 2.84 feet on Sept. 26; they are considered full between 20 and 22 feet.

According to ranchers up the creek from district wells, whose rights to take water from the aquifer trump the district’s rights, CCSD shouldn’t count on having those well levels rise by much until there’s significant rainfall.

That rain accumulation should be at least 10 to 12 inches before the dry spell really is affected, according to former county Supervisor Shirley Bianchi, who lives in San Simeon Creek Canyon.

“Just because the rain starts and the creek starts running, that doesn’t mean the drought is over,” she said.

Most Cambrians already are water thrifty. Dry spells frequently occur in two- to three-year cycles, according to a water history prepared by then-district Director Peter Chaldecott in 2008.

He wrote that a drought from 1862 to 1864 was so severe that “ranchers drove cattle over the cliffs to end their thirsty suffering.”

His report chronicled other droughts, including the one in the late 1970s during which water rationing was imposed, and another from 1988 to 1991, during which the district imposed stringent water conservation methods. Water consumption dropped 35 percent.

More recent dry spells happened in 2002 (with 15.31 inches of rain in the rain year ending that June), 2004 (14 inches), 2007 (9.52 inches) and 2008 (15 inches). Surcharges on bills were implemented in the first three periods, increasing the cost of water usage and driving down consumption.

In 2011-2012, district gauges collected 14.51 inches of rain and, in 2012-2013, the total was 10.44 inches.

If you go …

The Cambria Community Services District board will meet at 10 a.m. at the Veterans Memorial Building, 1000 Main St., Cambria.

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