Some Cambria landscaping could be greener soon: Services district directors unanimously approved on Aug. 20 allowing customers to use drinkable water from the tap, with several caveats: They can only use it to irrigate trees and well-established shrubs, only on one day a week per account, and only as long as those customers don’t exceed their current allocations of water.
The change took effect as soon as it was approved.
Directors of the Cambria Community Services District had considered similar measures before, and turned them down. But this time, potential fire danger trumped a complete ban on using the district’s potable water for outdoor watering and other uses. That prohibition on outdoor watering has been in effect since Jan. 30, 2014.
Relaxing the ban a bit is not for annuals or new plants, nor is the change’s purpose to raise additional income for the district, according to General Manager Jerry Gruber and Board President Gail Robinette.
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They said in a phone-conference interview that the board approved the change to increase fire resistance in the drought-parched community by keeping alive as many trees as possible, along with shrubs that are close to homes and which could be dangerous fire fuel if allowed to dry out.
Cambria’s trademark, 3,000-acre Monterey pine forest has been hit hard by the drought. Fire Chief Rob Lewin estimates about 50 percent of the forest’s trees have died, and more are in danger of doing so.
When to water
The new rules restrict watering to before 9 a.m. and after 6 p.m. for all customers.
Permanent residents or businesses whose street addresses end in an even number may use potable water to irrigate on Tuesdays, addresses ending in an odd number may be irrigated on Thursdays.
And, as suggested by Director Jim Bahringer (who said the original resolution had a “glaring gap” in it), water customers who live elsewhere can irrigate with the district’s potable water on either Saturday or Sunday, but not both days on the same weekend.
Allotments and saving
All other CCSD restrictions on water use, including allotments of water, surcharges and penalties, remain in effect, because the community is still in a declared State 3 water-shortage emergency condition.
Under the current allotments, each permanent resident is allowed about 1,500 gallons (two units) per month, or four units per two-month billing period. Homes with part-time residents are allotted two units per month. Commercial allotments are based on previous usage.
If a customer chooses to use some of his or her allocation on trees and shrubs, someone must be in attendance when the irrigating is being done. Runoff of excess water is prohibited. Penalties for violations start at $50 for the first violation, rise to $150 for the second violation and $250 for the third and reach $1,000 for any violations beyond that.
That said, most Cambrians are super conservers when it comes to water, exceeding state conservation requirements. In July 2015, the latest month for which complete data are available, district records show Cambria consumed a total of 44.65 acre-feet of water, down 41 percent from the same month in the state’s baseline year of 2013.
To achieve that level of conservation and still keep some semblance of gardens and greenery, many Cambrians paid to have nonpotable water hauled in (or hauled it themselves) from Clyde Warren’s well in San Simeon, not far from the district’s wells but technically in a different aquifer. Other people lugged buckets of “waiting for the hot water” liquid from showers and sinks. And many people cut back on showers and flushing.
California’s statewide conservation target is a 25 percent reduction in water use from 2013 levels.
Other bans stay put
CCSD’s bans on other outdoor uses of potable water remain in effect, including: washing down sidewalks, driveways, parking lots and other hard-surfaced areas; washing cars, boats and other vehicles; and refilling pools or commercial spas, except to provide for public health and safety.
Enthusiasm for allowing even limited outdoor irrigation when the drought declaration is still in force was far from universal, with one audience member labeling the proposal as “irresponsible” and “a moral issue” (Julie Tacker of Los Osos).
Tina Dickason of Cambria said she thought the district’s “ulterior motive might be ‘let’s use up that water so we can flip the switch on the emergency water-supply project and raise more money. … I’d love to be able to water once a week, but. …”
Even some of the directors acknowledged having been opposed to previous iterations of the change, and Director Amanda Rice remained so, but she eventually voted “reluctantly” to approve the modification.
Directors considered waiting until after the busy Labor Day/Pinedorado holiday to change the ban on outdoor watering, but opted not to do that.