Should the Cambria services district start issuing a few new water connections each year? What can and should people and the district do now to conserve water? Those were recurring themes throughout the December meeting of the Cambria Community Services District Board of Directors on Dec. 20.
Possibly issuing new connections spurred some heated accusations from an audience member, who said one board member was unduly aggresive in trying to sway other directors to his point of view on growth.
While board members cast some votes during the December meeting, they also kicked most of the decisions down the calendar to their Jan. 17 meeting, with the issues expected to return either in final form or at least in their next iteration.
For instance, the item on which environmental activist Mahala Burton twice called Director Muril Clift a bully — the district’s response to county Planning Department’s biennial request for comments on Cambria’s growth rate — will be back Jan. 17 with some modified language and more information for directors.
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Comments from other directors seemed to indicate they basically agreed with Clift and were making up their minds on their own. “I don’t feel bullied,” said Director Gail Robinette, who thanked Clift for bringing forward information for other directors to consider.
The county needs the updated comments to help determine a “level of severity” for Cambria’s water supply, based on how much water the community has and how much it uses. That forms the framework for how much more the town could or should grow in a given year or two.
For years, Cambria’s growth rate mirrored that of most of the rest of the county: 2.3 percent. About 2000, it was lowered to 1 percent, based on the town’s usage and supply.
Supplies have been so low in the past that the district rationed water during severe droughts, such as in the late 1970s and 1988-1991, and levied surcharges for high use of water during other dry spells (most recently in 2007. Although the board was close to imposing surcharges again in December 2008, rains in early 2009 made that decision unnecessary).
When a previous services-district board declared a Level 3 water-supply emergency in 2001 — which triggered a virtual moratorium on new water connections — county planners put the town’s annual growth rate at zero. It’s been there ever since, but the previous CCSD board had discussed for months modifying or lifting the emergency declaration, based on the town’s actual water usage compared with how much water state regulators allow the community to take from the Santa Rosa and San Simeon creek aquifers.
Issuing “intent-to-serve” letters would mean lifting or at least bending that moratorium.
Clift continued to push toward that goal at the December meeting, presenting sheets of figures supporting his contention that the town doesn’t have a water emergency. (For a PDF of the CCSD staff report, click here.)
He wants the town’s water-supply resource severity level reduced to zero or, at most, a “Level 1” emergency if the document also includes providing water to the approximately 660 properties on the district’s “water wait list” for service.
At the December meeting, directors seemed to favor a growth rate somewhere between zero and 1 percent per year. Ultimately, they asked staff to revise the recommended language and bring it back in January.
New Director Amanda Rice noted that in the “circus that happens” when countywide resource management information is presented to the county Board of Supervisors, growth rates “are not likely to be changed easily.” The supervisors must decide “how they’ll allocate permits for each community, making sure they’re not sending a bunch of development” to areas that have insufficient resources to support that growth.
Some in the audience questioned lowering the level of severity of Cambria’s water shortage.
Richard Hawley asked if the board had factored in the town’s 30 percent vacancy rate, and wondered aloud what water usage would be if all those second homes and vacation rentals had year-round residents in them.
Tina Dickason said, before the district issues any new intent-to-serve letters for additional water connections, directors should address the condition and future of the town’s aging water pump system and station and the waste-water treatment plant.
Clift also said he believes the town’s historical vacancy level is about 28 percent, due to the high level of second homes that people use for vacations and occasional visits.