With the clock ticking down toward the target date Saturday, Nov. 15, to turn on Cambria’s emergency water project for its initial troubleshooting/break-in period, workers last week were packing down and smoothing earth, checking storage tanks and putting more infrastructure in place at the site on district property on San Simeon Creek Road.
The $9 million project is designed to draw into the plant a brackish blend of fresh and salt water, plus some already treated wastewater effluent from the district’s sewage-treatment plant. A system of pipes will transfer the brackish water from a well to the plant, where it will be filtered, treated and reinjected into the ground to flow toward the district’s supply wells. Brine left over from the filtering process will be transferred through pipes to the large holding pond where the water can evaporate. Remaining solids will be removed periodically.
Some related, and crucial, rulings are expected a day earlier, Friday, Nov. 14: The Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board will decide whether to issue a series of water discharge permits for the desalination plant.
All of the permits are focused on protecting water quality and ensuring that San Simeon Creek will have enough water to support a healthy wildlife habitat, said Harvey Packard, supervising water resource control engineer with the water board.
“Once they get those permits, they plan to turn the plant on,” Packard said.
Others are watching the process, too.
Supervisor Bruce Gibson said Monday, Nov. 10, “I know the district has worked tremendously hard on this project. … They’ve had their twists and turns trying to get this done …, but I’m hopeful that all those efforts will secure a safe and reliable water supply for the community of Cambria.
“I also know that there’s a lot of work yet to be done to secure a permanent solution” to Cambria’s water supply issues, Gibson continued, “but even with the recent rain, I’m most concerned with the immediate crisis facing the district’s water customers.
A walking/driving tour of the Cambria Community Services District site on a sunny, warm Thursday, Nov. 6, revealed plenty of activity at the project’s well sites, storage tanks, processing units and the large holding pond near the boundary with the state park campground.
A grader, a loader and pickups darted around the site like oversized dragonflies. Big semi-trucks and a horizontal-drilling rig joined the busy traffic ballet. (A few semis have gotten stuck in the 90-degree turn from narrow San Simeon Creek Road into the job site — the chain-link fence near the entrance has suffered some indignities).
Although much work remained to be done, a lot already had been accomplished.
The large pond area had been scraped and shaped, and installation had begun on the thick, slightly stiff high-density liner that’s to keep the brine from soaking into the ground or spilling. The two stacked layers of the liner are buffered by a padded barrier that looks like a sophisticated version of bubble wrap.
A huddled cluster of “buildings” evoked images of wagons circling in a meadow. The long rectangular enclosures, which look a little like railroad boxcars with pipes sticking out of them, had been placed on their foundations, and some of the high-tech equipment had been installed inside.
Several pumps, three reverse-osmosis structures and a microfilter unit were all in place, along with a 6,000-gallon influent tank — one of several large tanks that store water briefly along its complex processing route at the project site.
Also set up separately were five white tanks to store chemicals such as bleach and hydrogen peroxide that will be used in the process.
The to-do list
On that Thursday, tasks still to be done included but weren’t limited to:
• Replacing an old pump at the well that will draw from the a brackish-water blend from the ground, which will be filtered and treated in the new multistage process.
• Installing membranes that will strain impurities from the water by pushing it through microfilter and reverse-osmosis units installed in the rectangular enclosures.
• Connecting a PVC pipe to the injection well roughly a half-mile from the plant — the site where the recent tracer test was conducted and where treated water from the plant will be returned to the ground. A separate line will deposit up to 100 gallons per minute to a riprap-lined surface-discharge area near a copse of willow and cottonwood trees; the water is to flow into and help recharge the creek lagoon.
• Grading, lining and completing the 8-foot-deep holding pond — with an estimated capacity of up to 8 million gallons and a surface area of 3 acres.
• Installing five blowers, four of which are to hasten the evaporation process by spraying brine horizontally and slightly above the surface of the brine in the pond (the concrete supports were visible at the edge of the pond, but the blowers themselves were not yet in place). The fifth blower will be on standby.
The spraying can only happen when weather conditions are right, according to CSD Engineer Bob Gresens and Director Gail Robinette, who accompanied Thursday’s tour, and a sound barrier is to deflect noise from the State Park campground.
A 4-foot-deep trench had been dug around the perimeter of the pond, meeting a requirement of the Regional Water Quality Control Board. The trench was lined with stainless steel mesh to keep gophers out, and a 3-foot-high barrier to keep threatened red-legged and other frogs from jumping into the pond was also planned (even though, according to Gresens, the biological monitors and crew members haven’t yet found any frogs at the site).
Meanwhile, crews and CSD staff were playing beat the clock to get the pricey plant ready to turn on and test, while continuing the process toward getting necessary permits to convert a temporary, emergency water source into a facility that can provide a backup supply during dry seasons in the future.