Rain helps, but still a ways to go

Cambria still on track for another record dry year

betling@thetribunenews.comMarch 6, 2014 

It’s looking like too little, too late. A storm predicted to bring significant rainfall to water-thirsty Cambria didn’t open its spigot on the local area, leaving the town on track to break low-rainfall records for the second year running.

A storm forecast to bring up to 3 inches of rain on Friday, Feb. 28, didn’t even fill town rain gauges to the inch mark on that day. The total for a storm that passed through Wednesday, Feb. 26, and the multi-day storm that came ashore late Thursday and sent occasional showers through the area through Saturday was 2.25 inches in the Cambria Community Services District rain gauge at its wastewater treatment plant on Windsor Boulevard, north of the Park Hill neighborhood.

Other town rain gauges collected from 1.95 to 2.34 inches.

The Cambria Fire Department was ramped up “to handle the storm which didn’t come,” Cambria Fire Chief Mark Miller said. “In one way it’s good, I just wish we’d gotten more rain out of it.”

Arrangements had been made, he said, “to call for extra resources, all that plan was in play. Thankfully we didn’t have to put it into play.”

Only about three trees toppled in the storm, not many for Cambria and its forest of shallow-rooted Monterey pines. One tree, a cypress, briefly blocked Moonstone Beach Drive on Friday morning until cleared by county road crews.

PG&E recorded nine outages affecting 92 customers in Cambria during the storms, and another nine outages affecting 26 customers in San Simeon.

Winds predicted to gust up to 55 mph topped out at 47 mph at 4 a.m. Friday, according to the automated weather station at Rancho Marino, on the coast just south of the Marine Terrace neighborhood in Cambria, south of the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve.

The storm did whip up waves that pushed inland further than usual early Saturday, forcing temporary closure of a portion of the San Simeon Campground close to San Simeon Creek and the precautionary closure of San Simeon Pier.

Many new elephant seal pups were lost in the storm, a parks ranger said, and the colony was forced to take shelter on a narrow strip of sand at the viewing area, with many seals venturing into dunes near Highway 1 where they don’t usually go.

While rainfall amounts in Cambria did not reach higher amounts forecast, enough fell to go a long ways toward filling a large storage system under playing fields at Cambria Grammar School, said Lee Wight, head of maintenance for the school district. The 1.7-million-gallon-capacity underground water storage at the grammar school now has 700,000 gallons in it, he said Friday.

Record drought

The rain brought the CCSD rain total for the year to 6.35 inches, on track to break the district record for the lowest rainfall in a year for the second year running.

In records dating back to 1973, prior to the district’s founding in 1976, the lowest totals for the rain year, July 1 to June 30, had been 11.28 inches in 1976-77 and 10.64 inches in 1990-91, until last year’s net of just 10.44 inches. With the bulk of the rain season past, the typical March rainfall of 4 inches not expected in the current forecast and the remaining three rain-year months also averaging a total of 4 inches, Cambria’s historic drought continues.

In the historic drought of 1987-90, Cambria got 40.14 inches of rain. For 2011 through March 3, Cambria has gotten 31.3 inches of rain.

The district has previously said it would take at least 10 to 11 inches of rain to recharge its pair of shallow aquifers on Santa Rosa and San Simeon creeks. Recent rainfall leaves Cambria still about 4 inches shy of that.

“It was not enough rain,” Miller said. “I was hoping we’d get enough to help out more.”

Reporter Kathe Tanner contributed to this story.

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