Releasing a few water meters each year will stimulate the local economy, allow people on a long-standing water wait list to stop waiting and start building, and generate revenue, Cambria Community Services District directors agreed at their monthly meeting May 24.
The district, saying demand for water was outstripping supplies, stopped issuing new meters in November 2001. It was said the water hookup moratorium would be in place until a water master plan was completed and a new water source was online, or about to be.
The master plan was completed in 2008, but desalination, the new water source identified as the preferable option, has been stalled as attempts to do testing needed to complete desalination plans have been turned back by the state Coastal Commission as potentially harmful to the environment and public access to the coast.
An Army Corps of Engineers contractor is currently working on an environmental review of water supply alternatives, including desalination as well as other options.
For now, district directors seem to be seeing reduced water use by the community and the prospect of further conservation as the new water source needed before new water meters are released.
Director Muril Clift said the district has rights to more groundwater (810 acre feet annually) than CCSD customers are using, and that use has declined since a previous board declared a water-supply emergency and stopped issuing new connections in 2001.
According to the district’s Urban Water Management Plan, CCSD pumped 672 acre feet in 2010 and 682 acre feet in 2011. In 1988, CCSD pumped 820 acre feet. That plummeted to 555 acre feet in 1991, the last year of a drought, and climbed up to 798 acre feet in 2001, the year the moratorium was declared.
Clift suggested taking 60 days to complete a “very specific conservation statement, so we know we can even pull our usage down some more.”
Board President Allan MacKinnon said the release-meters-now plan is not only a good one, but necessary.
He said a “small stimulus, a few meters” could provide “as many as 50 occupations that don’t exist right now, different businesses that have gone out of business or have shrunk in size.”
MacKinnon recommended telling the county that “we have a hurt here. We need to release these meters and we want to do it immediately.” Then, “if the county says OK, then we’d go immediately to the Coastal Commission, telling them we’d move ahead as quickly as possible with the most aggressive conservation program possible.”
“The release of 10 meters per year would need less than 2 acre-feet (more water) per year, would create a significant number of local area jobs as well as generating added CCSD revenue,” MacKinnon said.
The district has struggled with decreasing income, higher wage-and-benefit costs and aging infrastructure.
Connection fees also would have to rise, Clift said, and would include an equity share in the total system, added infrastructure, cost of new connections, the cost of conservation efforts and administrative costs of the program.
“My recommendations could result in a connection fee in the range of $15,000 to $35,000,” depending on infrastructure cost, Clift said. The current fee is $3,255. The fee in Templeton, a comparably sized district, is $24,478,
Benefits from allowing new hookups could be “immediate, important and tangible,” MacKinnon said. “We have the right. I think we should move forward.”
County officials and the California Coastal Commission likely would have to agree to such a plan.
Clift also implied that negotiation with the county and Coastal Commission is preferable to confrontation. “It’s better to come with a plan.” At the county, “their concern is, if we do issue a water permit, they’d be in a position of not being able to issue the building permit” for the project, since new develoment must show it has a reliable water source.
Directors expect to vote June 28 on a preliminary resolution that would allow them to release a limited number of “intent-to-serve” letters (water meters) each year, based on available water supplies and an amped-up program for conserving fresh water, especially as applied to customers using a large volume. They also asked staff to define conditions under which that can be done.
Clift said they haven’t yet selected how many will-serves might be released each year under the new plan. That number could vary, based perhaps on the amount of water used the previous year.
“We do have an aging infrastructure, and if we do not issue some meters we would have no choice except looking towards current users to finance those repair costs though increased rates,” Clift added.
Steve Figler, a frequent critic of desalination plans, said of the plan, “I am cautiously pleased, cautiously optimistic. I like what’s being done, and like the way it’s being done.” Technology “does change,” he noted in agreeing with a statement by Director Gail Robinette. “When the time comes that we do need a facility probably 10 to 20 years down the road, we’ll get the newest technology, rather than old technology. I think this is good work.”