If Cambria’s new emergency water supply project isn’t up and running by now, it will be within a day or so, according to Jerry Gruber, general manager of the Cambria Community Services District.
Gruber said Tuesday, Jan. 13, that the district had in hand $3.5 million worth of performance bonds being required by the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board — the last hurdle to turning the valve that would officially start the water-reclamation process.
The bonds, which will cost the district $52,000 year, are to ensure that, in an emergency, cash would be available to shut down the plant or make repairs to the holding pond designed to contain effluent brine from the process until it can evaporate.
Gruber signed the bond Wednesday and sent it to the water board, which then merely had to acknowledge that it had been received.
The district had scrambled to find the bond after an initial commitment was withdrawn. After locating another bond issuer, there was another delay because the document didn’t have the right name on it.
The plant will use filtration and purification pro-cesses to treat brackish water (fresh, salt and treated waste water) drawn from under district property on San Simeon Creek Road. While completing and turning on the plant is a major step for a periodically drought-stricken community that for decades has sought another water source, there’s much more work to be done before the project can be considered a permanent solution.
The plant was constructed under an emergency permit from the county, because, according to district studies, the multiyear drought could have drained Cambria’s normal supply from groundwater near two area creeks.
The emergency permit also requires the district to get a regular development permit if the plant is to be used in the future in other than the most serious kinds of water shortages, defined as Stage 3 emergencies in which water is rationed and its uses restricted.
To get the regular permit, the district is in the process of completing a study of any environmental impacts from the plant and its operation. Gruber said he expects the environmental impact report to take several more months to complete.
He told Supervisor Bruce Gibson that, after the plant’s valve is opened and the plant is running full tilt, the plan is to operate it for three months, “10 hours a day, four days a week,” and then turn it off until it’s needed.
When will that be? Gruber noted that despite creek-filling rainfall in December, the dry spell that followed has slowed creek flow dramatically and water levels in district wells “are starting to drop again. The creeks are really at a standstill.”
In the meantime, Gruber expects the district Board of Directors could again consider letting its customers use their allocated amounts of water however they wish, which includes for irrigating their landscaping. However, whether that change is made likely will depend on current conditions and water supplies.
He also said that, during the plant’s three-month test cycle, the board may consider waiving the additional charges that are to be levied on customers anytime the plant is operating.