Cambria's outdoor-watering ban could be loosened if supplies improve

ktanner@thetribunenews.comOctober 1, 2013 

Mike Willis and his wife, Marian, not pictured, fill up their 100-gallon water tank — which they purchased in Hanford because they couldn't find one locally — with nonpotable water offered by Cambria Nursery and Florist on Monday, Sept. 30. This water is for two of their elderly neighbors to use.

JOE JOHNSTON — jjohnston@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

Since Cambria’s services district directors ruled last month that, during the current drought, district customers could no longer use water from the tap to irrigate outdoor plantings, the town’s slightly shell-shocked residents have been battling the effects of warm, dry days and the desire to keep their gardens green and plants alive.

The ban on outdoor watering could be loosened or removed Oct. 24 if water supplies improve, something recommended by Director Gail Robinette at the Cambria Community Services District meeting on Sept. 26. She advocated assigning specific days for watering, with perhaps half the town irrigating on Tuesdays and the other half on Thursdays, or under some other arrangement.

Water levels in Cambria’s municipal supply and monitoring wells bottomed out after Labor Day, but with watershed management had improved somewhat by the meeting last month, according to general manager Jerry Gruber.

The district is also working with some commercial accounts, such as motels and restaurants, as well as other large-scale customers, to see how their use can be reduced.

Some motels, such as the Bluebird Inn, already participate in a Project Planet program that advocates giving guests the option of not getting fresh towels and linens daily. The district also is requiring that now.

Cambrians aren’t alone in this pickle. Other communities in the county also are wrestling with water-supply issues that range from problems to crises.

For instance, neighbors in San Simeon have been under a similar ban on outdoor watering since July, and their services district directors are to consider later this month declaring a Stage 3 emergency and strengthening the restrictions under that most severe declaration.

Since the outdoor irrigation ban went into effect, many weary Cambria gardeners find themselves carrying nonpotable water in buckets or dragging around heavy hoses attached to bulky black storage tanks. They’re saving water from showers and baths. They’re navigating the town’s notoriously hilly, curvy roads while transporting sloshing containers of nondrinkable water. Others, instead, are paying to have a service or gardener haul and apply the nonpotable water.

According to a letter sent out by the Cambria Community Services District, the free, nonpotable water should only be used to irrigate ornamental landscaping, not on plants or vegetation that people might eat.

Irrigating that way is not an easy process.

Users need a holding tank or series of buckets or tubs, and a way to transport them. Holding tanks designed for such use are available, but sources in this county are sold out, according to some who want to buy.

For years, nonpotable water has been provided free by the district at a connection on a short driveway about a half mile east of Highway 1, just off San Simeon Creek Road.

Water drawn from a Winsor construction well near San Simeon Creek is pumped into company trucks and delivered to two recently installed storage tanks, one adjacent to the Cambria Skatepark and another in the driveway of Cambria Nursery. The public can take water there for free, too.

According to Lizzie Shaw of the Winsor firm, the water is considered nonpotable because the same trucks deliver treated water that’s not drinkable.

But it takes time to fill up. Javier Castenada estimates it takes about 40 minutes at the San Simeon Creek connection to fill his 225-gallon tank. The gardener doesn’t charge his customers for the water — the district forbids reselling it — but does charge for the time he spends in getting the water and applying it to his customers’ properties.

For some devoted gardeners, the process has become a matter of triaging which cherished plants will survive and which won’t.

Craig and Kathy Smith transport nonpotable water in a 100-gallon tank they’ve had in their Dodge Durango for about five years. “Before, we used the water to supplement our drip system,” Kathy Smith said, “but now, it’s all we have.”

With a steep, third-acre property to maintain, “it’s pretty much an all-day endeavor” to keep their plants watered, she said as she dragged around a 50-foot hose attached to a 300-gallon storage tank adjacent to their three-story house.

An electric pump pushes the nonpotable water through the hose, and the Smiths are dreading their power bill. They’re estimating that regular use of the pump will cost them about $200 a month.

Well level update

As of Sept. 23, average water levels in the district’s San Simeon wells were at 3.86 feet, up from 2.84 feet on Sept. 16. Those wells are considered full at 20 feet or above. The level in a well near Leffingwell High School on Santa Rosa Creek was 47.27 feet; the well had been offline for maintenance and repairs for most of the year. It is considered full at 50 feet or above, but there are environmental constraints on its use. A monitoring well designed to protect species in Santa Rosa Creek was at 3.03 feet Sept. 23, down from 3.11 feet on Sept. 16, but up from the danger zone of below 3 feet prior to that.

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