Cambria leaders poised to declare Stage 3 drought emergency

ktanner@thetribunenews.comJanuary 25, 2014 

Water use restrictions in Cambria are expected to be tightened and financial penalties imposed when local government leaders meet Thursday.

Cambria Community Services District General Manager Jerry Gruber plans to advise his board members to take that stringent step to help stretch the water supplies the community still has.

Cambrians likely will be restricted soon to using no more than two units of water, or just shy of 1,500 gallons, per resident per month. Most Cambria residences use six units of water (about 4,500 gallons) or less each month. A water unit is 100 cubic feet, or 748 gallons.

Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a formal drought emergency in the state, and has asked Californians to voluntarily reduce their water use in the wake of the state’s driest year in more than a century. Federal officials have declared 27 of the state’s counties, including San Luis Obispo County, to be primary natural disaster areas in what’s described as “extreme drought.”

“I was disappointed that the drought emergency declared by the governor was only a voluntary 20 percent reduction,” Gruber said in a recent email. “I think it is too little too late. I will be recommending to the (CCSD) board that we go immediately to a Stage 3 drought emergency … I will also be discussing with the board emergency supply sources.”

Director Mike Thompson said via email, “I’m certainly open to exploring this option (Stage 3 restrictions), along with others. Inaction at this point is not an option and I’m prepared for an open and extensive discussion at the meeting. I’m also particularly interested in learning more about the potential for utilizing a portable reverse osmosis system for augmenting our current water supply.”

The district’s Stage 3 statutory restrictions, which may be modified by the board, include:

• Penalties of 500 percent as a surcharge on usage above the monthly allotment.

• Reduction of base rate usage to 4 units from 6 units, meaning allowed usage over 4 units will be subject to second-tier water rates.

• A ban on use of potable water on landscaping and gardens.

• For commercial customers, a limit of no more than 3 units per equivalent dwelling unit (the supposed typical use of a residence), or the average use in the prior year, whichever is less.

As the drought worsened during the past year, Cambria also faced its own supply woes last fall.

The district’s supply dwindled when a key well on Santa Rosa Creek was shut down for repairs. Then a monitoring well that determines whether the district can pump from the Santa Rosa Creek well dipped below the level that allows for use of the well upstream.

Still, district directors have until now appeared to be hesitant to impose strict Stage 3 restrictions, despite repeated urging by some people who regularly attend the board’s meetings.

In part, the directors said, they had hoped to first review and revise the municipal code chapters dealing with water restrictions. Instead, on Sept. 20 they chose to ban use of potable water for irrigation of outdoor landscaping. A month later they softened that restriction to allow district customers to irrigate on Tuesdays (for odd house numbers) or Thursdays (even house numbers).

The meeting Thursday is likely to get added turnout due to a call by Cambrians for Change leader Tina Dickason to show up and support an off-stream water storage facility on property off San Simeon Creek as a water supply alternative.

The monthly services district board meeting begins at 12:30 p.m. Thursday at the Veterans Memorial Building, 1000 Main St., Cambria.

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