Cambria may face 'the most serious water crisis of our lifetime,' Gibson says

dsneed@thetribunenews.comFebruary 6, 2014 

Bruce Gibson

JAYSON MELLOM — The Tribune Buy Photo

Citing the possibility of “the most serious water crisis of our lifetimes,” county Supervisor Bruce Gibson is urging the Cambria Community Services District to take immediate steps to secure an emergency water source.

In an email Wednesday to the district’s directors and staff, Gibson said Cambria is in danger of running out of water by summertime if winter rains are not sufficient to restart flows in Santa Rosa and San Simeon creeks.

“Since Cambria is so isolated from other water infrastructure, emergency supply options are limited, and thus it is particularly at risk — hence my concern,” Gibson said. “It’s a bit like the canary in the coal mine.”

The district has already taken several steps to deal with the severe drought. These include mandating conservation of potable water and allocating of $500,000 worth of no-bid expenditures to start the planning and engineering necessary for obtaining an emergency water source.

Gibson was scheduled to meet with district officials Friday morning to discuss how to further respond to the drought.

The district is considering several emergency water sources, including now-idle wells in Santa Rosa Creek that could be restarted and a portable brackish water desalination plant. However, Gibson is warning that such efforts will take extensive coordination with various permitting agencies and urged the district to begin that work now.

The state Coastal Commission and the Regional Water Quality Control Board are the two key agencies that must be consulted, he said.

“I repeat my offer to make county staff available to help you craft the necessary project description including alternatives analysis, environmental review, permitting strategy and agency coordination,” Gibson said in his email to the district.

Gibson said he plans to work with district officials to determine what emergency assistance might be available to Cambria now that the state and federal governments have declared San Luis Obispo County a natural disaster area as a result of the drought.

At their Jan. 30 meeting, CSD officials estimated that the district has about 150 acre-feet of water left in its two aquifers in San Simeon and Santa Rosa creeks.

“The 150 acre-feet would correlate to about three months of supply, assuming the same level of demand were to occur during this period as occurred during 2013, and no further recharge to the aquifers occurs between now and the end of the rainy season,” district general manager Jerry Gruber said in a staff report.

Also in the staff report, Gruber stated that rehabilitating and restarting two wells in the Santa Rosa Creek aquifer could provide about 114 acre-feet of water. Doing so would meet short-term demand for two or three more months and would cost about $100,000.

Another possible water source would be a portable desalination plant, which could treat brackish water from the San Simeon Creek aquifer. This could produce about 200 acre-feet of water per dry season, for another four to six months of use.

Equipment, well and piping costs for this option would run from $800,000 to $1.25 million along with undetermined design and permitting costs. Water from this source could be available by midsummer.

A rainstorm that moved through the county Thursday was expected to drop as much as three-quarters of an inch of rain on coastal areas. This will ease drought conditions somewhat, but immediate action is still needed to avoid a crisis in Cambria, Gibson said.

“To me, we ought to be on red alert,” he said. “There is every possibility that we will not see that much more rain this year.”

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