Cambria declares Stage 3 water shortage emergency

With wells that could run dry in 3 months, leaders vote to declare emergency, enact the most stringent conservation measures

betling@thetribunenews.comJanuary 31, 2014 

Faced with the possibility that wells will run dry in three to six months, Cambrians must use less water immediately and spend reserve funds to develop additional sources soon, Cambria Community Services District directors decided Thursday.

In a five-hour meeting in a packed hall, directors voted unanimously to declare a Stage 3 water shortage emergency, the most stringent of three levels of mandated conservation measures.

Consideration of the drought emergency declaration drew more than
120 people to the Veterans Memorial Building. The audience filled nearly every seat and lined the walls.

Fifteen people spoke on the issue in 50 minutes of public comment.

“This is a crisis,” said Harry Farmer, a longtime resident and former candidate for the district board. “We’re all in this together.”

Farmer, holding up small and large water buckets, encouraged all to use water wisely, using tactics such as taking a bucket into the shower and using what it collects on plants and for flushing toilets.

Speaker Ken Butterfield expressed frustration that the district board wasn’t proactive about managing the water supply earlier in the year, before it became a crisis that district customers have to solve.

“We bail you out every time you mismanage our resources,” he told directors. “People are frustrated. We’re doing your homework.”

Some water conservation measures, including a ban on use of potable tap water on landscaping, went into effect immediately after directors voted, but penalties for overuse of water won’t go into effect until March 1, the beginning of the district’s next bimonthly billing period.

Because an additional water supply is needed as soon as possible, directors also authorized, on a 4-1 vote with director Amanda Rice dissenting, spending up to $500,000 toward developing such sources without going through the bidding process typically mandated for agency projects.

Two additional water sources will be pursued.

One is the redevelopment of district wells on Santa Rosa Creek that have not been used in many years. The two wells are farther down the creek from the well currently used by the district, and closer to the site of an old spill of the gas additive MTBE underneath a gas station in Cambria’s East Village.

Use of the wells was stopped more than 10 years ago, partly out of a concern that their continued use would draw the contamination plume underground toward the creek. No contamination was ever detected at or near the creek, though traces remain under the station at Burton Drive and Main Street.

Out of an “overabundance of caution,” district engineer Bob Gresens said he would recommend granulated activated carbon filters on those wells if and when they are activated.

“It’s minimal risk,” he said, “but we would err on the side of caution.”

The other additional water source the district will pursue is a brackish water desalination unit on San Simeon Creek that would take slightly salty water from a well on district property and treat it to drinking water standards.

One scenario laid out by Gresens put the cost of such a facility at $1.5 million to $2.1 million, over design costs. The estimated cost of a permanent facility, including purchase of equipment and putting pipes underground, came in at about $15 million, he said, when the Army Corps of Engineers studied it for the district.

“What we’re trying to figure out is how to keep capital costs down and build in a temporary fashion,” Gresens said. “Costs are still coming in. These are very rough estimates.”

Directors also unanimously authorized spending an estimated $175,000 on a study of the area where the brackish water well would be installed to find out whether it is a suitable location.

Even on an emergency basis, any new well and water treatment facility would need to go through the county and state permitting process.



The Cambria Community Services District adopted Stage 3 drought restrictions Thursday.

Effective immediately:

• Use of potable (drinking) water on landscape is banned. The district will make nonpotable water available for pickup at no charge.

• Motel guests have the option not to have linens laundered daily.

• Vehicles, boats and trailers may not be washed with potable water.

• Sidewalks, decks, windows and parking lots may not be rinsed with potable water.

• Refilling swimming pools and commercial spas is prohibited.

• Starting Monday, public restrooms will be closed, but portable restrooms will be provided.

Effective March 1 (the next bimonthly billing cycle):

• Each residential account is allocated two water units a month, four per billing period. (A unit of water is 100 cubic feet, or 748 gallons, which is about 50 gallons per person per day.)

• An allocation increase of the same amount of water for each additional resident is available by request. The form is available at

• A 500 percent penalty applies to water use that exceeds the allocation. A single-occupant residence allocated four units per billing period would, if it used five units, pay the base rate of $23.82 for the first four units and $30.25 (five times $6.05) for the additional unit, for a total of $54.07.

• The base rate for residential water use applies to the first four units, down from six units. Additional charges kick in after the base rate allocation is used.

• The commercial allocation will be 80 percent of the actual average use in the prior 12 months. Commercial accounts will receive notice of their allocation before the next billing period begins.

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