Cambria restricts water use amid declining well levels

ktanner@thetribunenews.comSeptember 20, 2013 

Former Cambria Community Services District Director Frank DeMicco, at lectern, admonishes current directors at a special meeting Friday for not taking conservation measures sooner this year.

KATHE TANNER — ktanner@thetribunenews.com

Effective immediately, Cambria residents can no longer use water from the tap to irrigate their yards and gardens, the Cambria Community Services District Board of Directors unanimously decided at a special meeting Friday.

The board also urged staff to make it easier for the public to use nonpotable water, possibly by filling a water tanker and parking it near the Veterans Memorial Building on Main Street. Free landscaping water is available at district property on San Simeon Creek Road.

District water levels at its primary well field on San Simeon Creek plummeted from 5.74 feet in mid-August to 3.74 feet in mid-September, a span that includes Pinedorado Days, which annually draws thousands of visitors to town. The district pumped more than a million gallons a day for four days that weekend, compared to about 600,000 gallons usually, district General Manager Jerry Gruber said at a prior meeting.

Those wells dropped to 2.84 feet Monday, the lowest mid-September readings since the drought years of 1988-89.

Typically the district would turn to a well near Coast Union High School on Santa Rosa Creek but could not use that well early this month because a monitoring well near the creek mouth had dropped to less than 3 feet, triggering a license restriction prohibiting use of the well upstream. The monitoring well has since climbed back to more than 3 feet — by just over an inch — and the district has pumped about 2.3 acre-feet of water from the upstream well since Sept. 13.

The district now estimates that 99 acre-feet of water is available in the San Simeon Creek aquifer. Demand is estimated at 88 acre-feet through October, and 144 acre-feet through November — meaning the district might have just enough if rains come early, or fall well short if they come late.

The aquifer on Santa Rosa Creek is nearly full, measuring nearly 50 feet in the well near the high school.

At Friday’s special meeting, a couple of dozen members of the public spoke to, lectured, chastised, informed and begged the board to take action now. Former district Director Frank DeMicco cited projects not done, the need for systemwide major maintenance, capital improvements and a failure to “call for restrictions as soon as (the Santa Rosa Creek well’s) productivity was compromised and an imminent crisis was evolving.” He urged directors to “do the job you were hired to do.”

Aside from the ban on watering landscaping with potable water, directors also directed district staff to:

  • Use the Santa Rosa Creek well as much as possible;
  • Work with the county to suspend its use of a Shamel Park irrigation well near the monitoring well that determines if the upstream well can be used;
  • Investigate discharging treated effluent into the lower aquifer of Santa Rosa Creek instead of in the San Simeon Creek aquifer; and
  • Research possibilities of a portable desalination/reverse osmosis plant that would recharge drinking water aquifers using highly treated brackish water and/or wastewater effluent.

For now, directors decided against adding surcharges on the water bills of those among its 4,000 customers using more than the average amount of water, but they could add surcharges later in the year.

Cambria watering ban

Passed unanimously Friday by services district directors:

  • Outdoor watering of landscaping with potable water is prohibited. Nonpotable water is available free from the district.
  • Guests in lodgings shall have the option to not have their towels and linens laundered daily.

The resolution takes effect immediately. Violations will become a misdemeanor after notice is published in the next 10 days. Fines — starting at $50 for the first violation, climbing to $150 and $250 and topping out at $1,000 per subsequent violation — will be added to customer water bills. Water service can be discontinued if fines are not paid.

Customers can apply in writing to the district general manager for exceptions to the ban if they will cause “undue hardship or emergency condition,” or if the exception will not affect water service to others.

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