Cambrians will learn Thursday whether their water rates will rise in September, and if so by how much, to pay for an emergency water-supply project that’s already under construction.
If the board does not receive sufficient formal protests, it is expected to approve the proposed rate increase.
The Cambria Community Services District emergency plant isn’t expected to be online by the classically dry months of September or October, however, leaving people in the drought-ridden community to wonder whether they will have enough water to last until it rains again.
To help stretch the supply, Cambrians have been among the state’s best water conservers. “Usage in June is the lowest ever for the month,” according to General Manager Jerry Gruber, having dropped 44 percent in comparison with 2013 statistics.
The plant on the district’s existing well field on San Simeon Creek Road is estimated to cost about $8.8 million.
How much the plant will cost each of the district’s customers each two-month billing period is a topic for an accountant.
At Thursday’s meeting, the board is to learn how many formal protests were received about a proposed rate increase that would pay for the emergency water-supply project. Based on those results, directors are to decide about implementing those higher rates.
The plant’s reverse osmosis and other technologies are to purify brackish water that’s a blend of treated wastewater and fresh and salt water. The water treated in the new plant would be returned to the aquifer, where it would gradually spread to the district’s water supply wells in that area.
According to a notice posted June 23 by the county Clerk-Recorder’s Office, the plant is to consist of an existing extraction well, an advanced water treatment plant, an injection well to the groundwater basin, an evaporation pond, three lagoon injection wells and four monitoring wells.
As reported by district consultants from CDM Smith at a special meeting July 14, equipment for the plant also includes five large blowers that would hasten the evaporation rate on the pond. The diesel-powered blowers, similar to snow-blowing devices at ski resorts, would have noise-reducing partial shelters. The blowers would operate during the day only, except for days when the wind would carry odors and noise toward the nearby state park campground.
The plant is being constructed under an emergency permit that restricts operations to times of official drought declaration, as there is now. The permit mandates that water from the plant can only be provided to current customers of the district. The district estimates the plant would operate a maximum of six months a year.
The district already has applied for a permanent permit that would allow “more flexible and efficient operation,” according to the July 10 project progress report.
As outlined in a June 6 notice of proposed increase in water rates sent to the district’s customers of record or owners of record for 3,945 parcels, the proposed rates would include an additional $13 bimonthly charge per dwelling unit (other accounts’ increases would be based on meter size).
There also are two separate increases based on water quantity, one that would be in place year-round, and another that would be charged only during billing periods when the district anticipates that the new plant would be operating.
Each of those categories has three different, escalating rate tiers that become progressively more expensive when the customer uses more water. For instance, the ongoing water-quantity charge would range from an extra $1.50 to $4.50 per unit (748 gallons). When the plant is operating, the additional “water supply operating charge” would range from $1.50 to $5 per unit.
All that makes it difficult to say simply “this is how much your rates will go up” and equally problematic for each individual ratepayer to calculate what normal or restricted, conservation-conscious water use would cost each billing period.
The district calculated one example for a single family home that currently uses 10 units every two-month billing period and pays $48.02 for ongoing water service. If the household’s water use remains the same, the total bimonthly water bill could increase to a maximum of $85.02 when the emergency plant isn’t operating and to a maximum of $109.02 when the plant is in use.
For plant permitting, the district is to perform a 67-day “tracer study,” which was to have begun this week.
A chemical tracer using bromide ions is added to water to be injected into the aquifer. During the test, water taken from monitoring wells will help determine how long it takes the tracer to travel underground.
The state requires a minimum of two months travel time from the injection well to the district’s source wells to ensure the water is safe for district customers, even if there are treatment malfunctions.
The tracer study requires about 134 acre-feet of potable water, much of which is supposed to recirculate back into the well field. However, the district anticipates losing about 27 acre-feet. (An acre-foot is 325,900 gallons.)
The district plans to rely solely on its Santa Rosa Creek wells during the tracer study. However, levels are dropping in a monitoring well that determines when water levels are too low for the district to pump from that aquifer.
As of July 7, the last date for which the district had released well data, the WBE monitoring well was at 3.03 feet, with the current cutoff point being 3 feet. In the past, the cutoff had been as high as 5 feet.
In his staff report for the board’s July 24 meeting, Gruber wrote that the district has applied to a temporary urgency change petition with the State Water Resources Control Board to lower that trigger point to 2 feet.