11 Cambria residents file protests to higher water rates

If more than half of ratepayers object, proposed increases won’t take effect

ktanner@thetribunenews.comJune 19, 2014 

As of Tuesday, June 17, 11 customers of the Cambria Community Services District had submitted official protests concerning a proposed water rate increase that would help offset the expected $8 million capital cost of an emergency water source to be used only during droughts, according to district general manager Jerry Gruber.

Not all the protests have been verified as being valid. That process will happen later. The district serves 3,938 parcels, and if more than half of the district’s ratepayers protest, the increases will not go into effect.

Ratepayers can file protests until the end of the district’s July 24 public hearing, following instructions that they received in the mail this month that can also be found online at www.cambriacsd.org.

The district has applied for a state grant of more than $3 million to apply toward the cost of the project.

The new water source — a series of wells and a processing plant that would use reverse osmosis and other methods to treat brackish water drawn from beneath district property along San Simeon Creek — wouldn’t be online until at least mid-November. A permit hearing for the project’s holding pond is set for Nov. 13, district engineer Bob Gresens told The Cambrian on June 11.

The original hope had been that the project could send water to taps in the parched community by midsummer, when supplies historically begin to plummet.

The emergency water project is under construction now, under an emergency permit granted by the county. The district has submitted its application for a full coastal development permit, according to Gruber, an approval process that could take up to four months if no appeals are filed, Gresens estimated.

The permitting agencies are “holding our feet to the fire,” the engineer said, but are expediting the process. He said the delay is not adversarial but because it’s a complex application process.

So far, no organized opposition has emerged to the project, its expected cost and the rate increases. However, several people critical of the project say they expect more protests will be filed soon.

The community group Cambrians for Change is not spearheading a protest movement, according to Cambria resident Tina Dickason, although “there may be some people within that group who are protesting.” She and others in a similar group in 2007 led the state’s first successful protest against proposed increases in water and sewage-treatment rates.

The town is in a Stage 3 water emergency that mandates strict restrictions, including how much water each resident can use during a two-month billing period.

If ratepayers exceed their allocations (based on the number of permanent residents in a household), they get hit with steep surcharges of up to 500 percent per unit of water above the limits. A unit is 748 gallons.

Ratepayers and the district hope their efforts will stretch out the sparse supply to tide them over until rains come — assuming there is substantial rainfall in the upcoming rainy season.

Recent water use has been dramatically lower, with use in the March-April 2014 billing period about 38 percent lower than in the same period of 2013.

April 2014 water use was the lowest on record since the summary table began in 1988.

Meeting next week

Cambria Community Services District Board of Directors meets at 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 26, at the Veterans Memorial Building, 1000 Main St., Cambria.

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