Pacing through the Pines

Coulda shoulda woulda when it comes to water savings in Cambria

Special to The CambrianMarch 6, 2014 

Rain has greened up Cambria’s hills, but the town is still looking for that water supply at the end of the rainbow. Maybe it should look on its rooftops.


Our hills are alive today with a glorious shade of emerald green but, officials tell us, this community is still in deep water due to the drastic shortage of that most precious resource.

Indeed, the rains that swirled down from the heavens over the recent past was like blasts of fresh air and rays of sunshine to prisoners confined to dark and putrid 12 by 12 holding cells for a year.

Admittedly that is a bit over the top, but the point is valid: much of California, and certainly Cambria, has been held hostage for more than a year by unending blue skies and clouds that offered not a drop of moisture.

But well-informed board-watchers would argue that far-reaching, visionary water resource plans have also been held captive by the lack of fundamentally smart planning by the Cambria Community Services District.

Those individuals who were elected to the CCSD — and those well-paid executives who have occupied the manager’s chair and enjoyed what some would say are bloated benefits, among other perks — landed these positions to serve as stewards of our natural resources.

In too many instances, that stewardship has fallen short, mirroring the dearth of wise water planning; hence, tens of thousands of words have been written and verbalized criticizing this and past boards.

How can a few more words hurt?

But first an allegorical anecdote from my own recent past for your consideration. On many a snowy winter’s morning in my dad’s Rocky Mountain home (at 7,770 feet) he gazed out his kitchen window, focusing on his big bird feeder, bustling with a flurry of feathered friends. And while he loved watching the birds swarm his feeder, he grumbled that the Stellar’s Jay knocked sunflower and other seeds to the ground.

“Look at those jays,” Dad would complain. “They knock the best seeds down into the snow.”

What he couldn’t see in the snow below—his breakfast table perspective prevented him—were chickadees, sparrows and nuthatches engaged in a feeding frenzy, harvesting all the seeds the jays pushed off the feeder.

Good as his eyes were, he couldn’t see the big picture just below his window.

Here in Cambria, leadership has also lacked the vision to create workable plans to preserve what water resources are available, to see the big picture.

Imagine, for example, if the CCSD, instead of spending an estimated $5.2 million on various studies for the phantom objective of a desalination plant, had offered low-interest, bank-secured loans (and technical assistance) to homeowners to install rainwater catchment systems on their rooftops?

Given the recent rains, and given that one inch of rain on a 1,000 square-foot roof produces 600 gallons, imagine the storage tanks brimming with non-potable water all around Cambria.

That wouldn’t have solved the overall problem, but it would have kept greenery and gardens watered without having to drive to CCSD’s nonpotable water locations.

Dire warnings have never been in short supply, but notwithstanding the 2004 Kennedy/Jenks report that “CCSD’s water supply could be exhausted during an extended drought due to lack of sufficient recharge during the drought periods and the influx of summer tourists,” the CCSD waited until now to implement super-strict-limits on water usage.

It’s easy to critique projections made 10 years ago. A serious water scarcity existed then, but previous boards passed the buck and residents of Cambria are asked now to pick up the tab. If the board had responded to Elizabeth Bettenhausen’s thoughtful suggestions 11 years ago, it may have heightened the importance of water conservation in the community. She proposed (in a letter to the board in September 2003) that “an annual Conservation Celebration” be launched. She suggested family-themed educational events and “perhaps an annual prize for the best new idea for conserving natural resources.

Grammar school children could be the judges,” she added. If my minister dad were still alive, with every snowflake and every drop of rain he’d be saying what he always said: “We can use all the moisture we can get.” The problem, I would remind him, is that here in California we just don’t get enough, so perhaps he could use the power of prayer, in which he believed so strongly.

Freelance journalist and Cambria resident John FitzRandolph’s monthly column is special to The Cambrian. Email him at

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