Viewpoint

No other reasonable short-term emergency water supply option

July 11, 2014 

Cambria has spent millions of dollars and devoted decades of study to decide on the best possible solution to our periodic water shortage problem. Many proposals have been examined with consideration for environmental viability, financial feasibility, reliability, and the ability to obtain necessary permits.

Every study, including the water master plan adopted in 2011 and the Army Corps of Engineers comprehensive review of a viable alternative water plan, has concluded: purification of brackish water within the San Simeon well field is Cambria’s best option.

The California Coastal Commission also suggested that this water reuse project is a preferred solution to Cambria’s need for a back-up water supply.

While we agree that long-term storage could be considered in the future, as a solution it could not be accomplished over the next few years, much less the next few months.

Our crisis is immediate! Inaction now would be irresponsible.

Some background:

Cambria is on the bottom catch basin of the San Simeon and Santa Rosa watersheds. We extract our water from the underflow of these two creeks, which ultimately flow to the sea.

Recently the springs and tributaries no longer resupply the underflow throughout the dry season, a condition that has exacerbated over the last two years. We cannot withdraw our normal volume of water without threatening endangered species or risking saltwater intrusion, especially at San Simeon Creek.

Each year near the end of our dry season, the underflow at the mouth of San Simeon Creek reverses. In effect, the creek begins to flow upstream, potentially carrying salt water with it. Year round, we pump treated sewer treatment plant effluent to strengthen a freshwater “mound” we maintain between our production wells and the sea to inhibit the heavier salt water from intruding. Such intrusion would be catastrophic.

In recent years, however, this reverse flow has occurred earlier in the season due to reduced creek flows from the upper watershed. Ground water and springs are stressed from years of drought. Last year this effect was unprecedented.

In order to ensure that we can continue to supply water to our customers during this time, the district has begun emergency water purification project at the San Simeon Creek well field that will treat the water in the mound for potable use.

Without our brackish water processing plant in place, and if our watershed doesn’t return to normal rainfall over the next few years, there is a possibility that the district will be unable to deliver water to its customers AT ANY PRICE.

No community should rely on desalination as a principal water supply or as grounds for growth. The cost of this source is just too high. Our permit allows us to operate the plant only in times of emergency and only to serve our current customers.

This insurance, the greater reliability of water, will allow us to attain a reasonable quality of life.

The emergency is real.

In my opinion there are no practical alternatives.

Jim Bahringer is president of the Cambria Community Services District Board of Directors.

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