San Simeon declares water emergency

ktanner@thetribunenews.comApril 17, 2014 

An April 9 ribbon-cutting ceremony commemorating the rehabilitation of San Simeon’s primary water well included, from left, Charles Grace, general manager of the San Simeon Community Services District, board directors Alan Fields, Ken Patel, Ralph McAdams, Dan Williams and Leroy Price, and plant Superintendent Jerry Copeland.

RENEE SAMANIEGO — Courtesy photo

San Simeon residents and businesses now have more stringent water-conservation rules to follow and tripled fines to pay if they don’t.

Directors of the San Simeon Community Services District on April 9 unanimously approved declaring that the district is in a Stage 3 water emergency, and put some temporary measures in place until they can draft and finalize a redrafted list of restrictions and fines for Stages 1, 2, and 3, as currently described in the district’s Ordinance 106. 

The district had been in a Stage 2 water shortage condition. Restrictions in all three stages are now in effect.

The board took the action quickly after the public hearing produced no public comment from the small audience. 

Earlier this year, residents detected the taste of salt in their tap water, as salt water began blending with the diminishing amount of fresh water in district wells. Chloride levels spiked in January at 910 mg/L; normal for the district’s water is about 30 mg/L. Current chloride levels are below 300 mg/L, the district’s General Manager Charles Grace estimated April 9. 

The state’s maximum contaminant level range for chloride is 500 mg/L. But that’s a secondary standard for contaminants that affect taste, odor or appearance, not health. Straight sea water has about 35,000 mg/L of salt. 

In mid-February, district officials began blending in water from the standby Well 3, normally used only in emergencies. The district stopped the blending soon thereafter because, after some rain, more fresh water was flowing into the wells from the upper aquifer.

Emergency stages

According to the temporary ordinance that went into effect immediately after it was approved, SSCSD’s Stage 3 now will take effect when the levels in the district’s well fields drop 12 percent below monthly historical averages for three consecutive weeks or when the Board of Directors implements the stage to protect the public health, safety and general welfare.

The Stage 3 declaration “will be lifted when Pico Creek starts running to the ocean or when well levels are no more than 5 percent below monthly historical averages.” 

As General Manager Charles Grace noted, the district “could technically pull back to Stage 1, based on recent rainfall, the current flow in the creek and water levels in the wells. But he said he felt such an action would be foolish, and would lead to a flip-flop action this summer. That’s when officials fully expect water levels in district wells again will fall, perhaps precipitously, and chloride levels and the threat of salt-water intrusion rise.

He said the temporary ordinance “gives the board the ability to go into Stage 3 by resolution,” and modify the current ordinance.

Stage 3 restrictions, which are added to those imposed in Stages 1 and 2, include: Limiting all lodging establishments to changing stay-over guest linens every other day, unless a guest specifically requests otherwise; and prohibiting the use of the district’s potable water for construction, compaction, concrete work or other construction-related needs. All fines levied for Stage 3 violations are to be tripled. Normal fines range from $100 to $250. If there are four violations within the same 12-month period beginning with the first violation, water service would be disconnected.

Stage 1 restrictions include: No use of district potable water to wash sidewalks, driveways, parking areas, buildings or other structures, except to alleviate immediate fire or sanitation hazards; no use of district potable water to wash vehicles, boats, mobile homes, trailers or other mobile equipment; limiting water from fire hydrants to firefighting and activities deemed immediately necessary to maintain the health, safety and welfare of the district; discontinuance of all sales or use of district water outside the district’s boundaries.

Under Stage 2 restrictions: Using potable water from the district for outdoor irrigation is prohibited, as is using it to fill, refill or add water to swimming pools, wading pools, ornamental fountains or spas, except as needed to keep pool or fountain equipment operative and to refill for evaporative losses; and restaurants cannot serve district water to their customers except when a customer specifically requests it. 

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