A “water efficiency” conservation plan will save enough to allow “a few” homebuilding projects a year in town, despite Cambria’s declared water emergency and decade-long ban on new water connections, services district directors intend to tell county and state officials.
The Cambria Community Services District Board of Directors unanimously approved the water savings plan Feb. 28. It’s expected to cost about $300,000 a year through 2020, while saving 71.26 acre feet of water, about 10 percent of the district’s use, at a cost of $1,392 per acre foot.
Costs could be recovered “by modifying the existing retrofit points-bank system as needed, or increasing connection fees for new water meters,” according to the plan. Grants also could be available.
A conserve-to-build concept isn’t unusual, according to county Supervisor Bruce Gibson, who said March 1 that the county has accepted that policy in some other areas, including San Luis Obispo, Nipomo and Paso Robles.
“I’m not an obstructionist,” he said. “We want to work with the district. … Cambria will have to prove to us that their numbers work.” That means, Gibson indicated, that before the county will consider building permits for projects that have been issued intent-to-serve letters for CCSD water service, Cambria’s water-conserving formula must be clearly laid out and produce verifiable results.
Coastal Commission officials did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
Much of the water savings would come from actions and devices taken or subsidized somehow, at least partially, by the district. Cambrians, visitors and businesses will also be required to continue or ramp up some of their already well-used conservation practices under the new $84,000 plan drafted by Maddaus Water Management, a consulting firm in Contra Costa County.
For instance, the district recently paid $30,000 for 20 new, water-saving washing machines in the town’s only coin laundry. The district estimates the new machines could conserve as much as 1,083 gallons of water per day, and that the expenditure would be repaid when those building homes or businesses pay for retrofit “points.”
Similar measures could be taken in other enterprises that use a lot of water, such as motels, restaurants and schools.
Cambria has had water-supply issues for decades. Severe droughts and dry spells triggered rationing, rate surcharges for high usage and lots of restrictions. The district began requiring that developers prove they’d saved (through retrofits, mostly) as much water as the new project would use.
Some project builders chose to actually replace fixtures and appliances in other homes and businesses. Others paid a fee in lieu of going through that process.
In 2001, because of the shortage of water, the district board declared an official water emergency under state law and imposed a ban on new water service. Some new buildings have been connected since then because some projects were “grandfathered” due to existing water use, they were already in the planning pipeline when the ban was imposed, or because of other agreements with the district.
The district “points bank” formula, in place since the early 1990s, allocates a certain number of points when a water-saving device replaces one that’s not so thrifty. Each retrofit “point” equals the use of 1.47 gallons of water per day.
CCSD banks points when someone retrofits. Then when property owners want to build a new home or remodel an existing one, for instance, they can buy points, which are then considered fees in lieu of finding a homeowner whose plumbing fixtures need to be retrofitted.
In effect, the purchased points cover the new project’s future water demands, as required by district ordinance.
The coin laundry retrofit, for instance, generated 737 retrofit points.
The district is already doing some of the recommended measures, such as giving away low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators, available at the district office and handed out occasionally at the Cambria Farmers Market.
Among the other recommended measures in the plan are: