Viewpoint

Cambria’s bait-and-switch ‘brackish’ water ‘emergency’ water project

May 2, 2014 

The April 17 Cambria Community Services District meeting exposed new aspects of the “emergency” water project, including that it will be treating sewer plant discharge-polluted groundwater from the spray field pathogen farm and is estimated to now cost $4 million, up from the $1.5 million.

And this information came out even though board President Jim Bahringer censored written questions, including at least two of mine regarding how much waste water foaming agent (MBAS) was found in the proposed source water tested and what was the salinity (electrical conductivity and total dissolved solids) of the water tested.

The answer given to why the CCSD doesn’t just pump inexpensive fresh creek water from our existing wells (with the limited water rights appropriation for CCSD San Simeon creek pumping during the dry months) instead of paying outrageous water rates to try to treat polluted groundwater was that a fear the wastewater spray field mound might backflow upstream to the existing wells.

Of course, a simpler, less-expensive answer would be to eliminate the spray field disposal mound by getting excess grant money to repurify water directly coming out of the wastewater plant and injecting just 5 percent of that to efficiently block any potential seawater intrusion (leaving 95 percent for beneficial community uses). And if the upstream backflow from the wastewater spray field to existing San Simeon creek wells is a real problem, why didn’t it show up in 2013 when the district (according to its website) pumped more than the 370 acre-foot appropriation between May 1 to the end of December?

Also disclosed was that the supposed July 1 project would at the soonest be ready in September (and El Niño may be bringing Cambria excess precipitation later this year).

Even the September date is unrealistic because the proposed project is riddled with fatal flaws, as follows: 1) CCSD has no water rights authority for a new San Simeon Creek “point of diversion” well, 2) It makes no sense to waste the limited water rights appropriation on expensive, wastewater-polluted groundwater treatment when existing wells can be used inexpensively, 3) The state Department of Public Health is requiring a tracer test to show the project treated wastewater discharge travels for at least two months (and they prefer six months) before it reaches existing water supply wells, 4) the proposed new (or reused existing) well will create a cone of depression that dewaters a wetland that supports seven to nine threatened and endangered species, and 5) the brine evaporation pond will likely become a toxic pit (banned in California since 1989) and will become a local version of the Kesterson environmental disaster that poisons birds and any critter that crawls, slithers or hops into the pit.

You have to ask yourself if you trust an agency that starts to issue new water hookup permits based on a new fraction of 1-gallon toilet retrofit during a drought, leaks substantial water twice from storage tanks during a drought, has no available “T”-bar with staff access in town to shut off a water meter due to a leak (also during Stage 3 rationing) and regularly discharges sewage to Santa Rosa creek, to make sure viruses, bacteria, mycoplasma, parasites and funguses don’t slip through a tear in the paper-thin membranes or a bad membrane seal that then pollutes existing San Simeon creek water supply wells, or even gets into your water supply?

Personally, I have no confidence in this CCSD boards’ rushed (“emergency” to avoid normal permitting), Rube Goldberg, laser light show, white elephant, “brackish,” wastewater-polluted groundwater project that will drain the CCSD financial reserves.

State certified hydrogeologist and engineering geologist Lou Blanck was a CCSD board member from 1996 to 2000.

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