Cambria studies two options for an emergency water supply

betling@thetribunenews.comFebruary 19, 2014 

Note: This article has been updated to correct the cost to the district of furnishing nonpotable water to residents and where most of that money went. Of the total cost, only a fraction, less than $6,000, has gone for the actual purchase of the water.

Faced with the prospect of running out of water in 120 days under a “worst-case scenario,” the Cambria Community Services District is focused on getting a new water source online by July 1, according to district board president Jim Bahringer.

The district is moving ahead on two tracks.

One is a brackish water desalination facility on district property on San Simeon Creek, neighboring the State Parks campground on the northeast side. Salty water would be pumped out, put through a reverse osmosis filter, then put back in the aquifer further upstream and eventually pumped back out for use by the district’s customers.

A study expected to cost up to $175,000 is underway to find out if the proposed brackish water well site is suitable, and whether it would furnish an adequate water flow.

Salty water is heavier than fresh water, and an underground wedge of relatively saline water is expected to extend inland some distance from the ocean shore. Results from that study are expected around mid-March.

To avoid regulatory hurdles, the district hopes to keep all the facilities on its own property, including discharging the briny leftovers from the filtering process into a pond on district property.

Should the study find the water supply from a brackish water well on district property would not be adequate, the district might work with State Parks on use of two old, small wells on its neighboring property. A study of that possibility could be funded by a $25,000 check given to the district by pop star Lady Gaga in connection with her use of Hearst Castle for video filming. But the district is not restricted to that use of her drought-relief donation, according to district Engineer Bob Gresens.

The other emergency water supply option the district is pursuing is reactivation of a pair of district wells not used in about 15 years. Just up and downstream from where Burton Drive crosses Santa Rosa Creek, the wells were supplanted when the district started using a newer well on the Coast Union High School campus east of town. That was done largely to minimize the risk of spreading an underground plume of MTBE gasoline additive contamination from the Chevron station in East Village.

“The MTBE level is so minute,” Jerry Gruber said Tuesday, “regulators feel it is not a factor in the plume migrating.”

To be sure, Gruber said, the district would send water from the reconditioned wells through a granulated activated carbon filter that would remove any such contamination.

Initial checks of the two wells are underway for about $4,200 each, including servicing, checking casings and other rehabilitation work. He won’t know the exact timeline for how soon the wells could come on line until next week, Gruber said.

Those wells should allow the district to tap about 155 acre-feet of water downstream from the newer well, or about two months’ water supply for the district. That could possibly provide a bridge until the reverse osmosis facility on San Simeon Creek comes online, he said.

The district is working with the state Department of Public Health, state Water Resources Control Board, Regional Water Quality Control Board, Coastal Commission, State Parks and county Supervisor Bruce Gibson on a solution to the water crunch, Gruber said in a statement released by the district.

The district board voted unanimously Feb. 13 to authorize Gruber to seek an emergency coastal development permit for the brackish water reverse osmosis facility.

Surcharges pending

Under the Stage 3 drought restrictions imposed by the district Jan. 30, surcharges on excess water use are due to kick in starting with the next billing period on March 1.

Businesses will be limited to 80 percent of their average use over the prior year and residents to two water units per person per month, or about 50 gallons per person per day. Water use over that month will be charged at five times the normal rate.

Determining the level allowed by commercial accounts by averaging an entire year could cripple his business, Moonstone Beach Bar & Grill manager John McKinnon told the board at its Feb. 13 meeting. The average doesn’t account for slower business in winter months and busier times in summer, McKinnon said.

“We’re already saving all we can,” he said. “Major things will have to be done. During summer, maybe we’ll have to close for lunch, only do dinner. We have 50 to 60 employees who could be out of jobs … we may have people not be able to feed their families, they may have to move out of the area.”

Nonpotable water tanks

The district is working towards moving the site where Cambrians can pick up nonpotable water from by the skate park, across from the Veterans Memorial Building on Main Street, to Rodeo Grounds Road, across Santa Rosa Creek from East Village.

The district has purchased two tanks capable of holding about 6,000 gallons each, Gruber said Tuesday, to replace the one they had been renting, and plan to fill it with district water instead of having to buy water from a rancher on San Simeon Creek and pay to have it trucked into town. Through Jan. 31, the district has spent a total of $43,300 on supplying nonpotable water.

One of the new tanks would be for use by people filling larger tanks, the other for those getting smaller amounts, so they would not have to wait as long in line. The change in location would also minimize snarls caused by the limited, busy space where the nonpotable tank is currently located.


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