The San Simeon Community Services District has temporarily lifted restrictions on how its customers can use district water, and directors on the Cambria Community Services District board are to consider Thursday, Jan. 29, whether and how that district’s water-use limitations and allocations might be modified or lifted.
These developments come despite the fact that most North Coast areas have received less than an inch of rain so far in January, prospects seem bleak for any last-minute storms this month, and even December’s welcome rains produced totals that were less than extraordinary.
The combination of shallow aquifers and diminishing rainfall frequently drains the towns’ water supplies faster than Mother Nature can replenish them.
Cambria has been under a moratorium on new water connections since 2001. San Simeon also needs more water — the moratorium there has been in place since 1988 — but the water supply there also has occasional high chloride readings.
The December rains? They helped but didn’t alleviate the drought conditions, according to services district, county and state officials.
The Cambria Community Services District launched a reclaimed-water project
Jan. 20 designed to provide the community with a long-sought backup source during severe droughts.
The plant is performing well, according to General Manager Jerry Gruber, who plans for the facility to run 10 hours a day Monday through Thursday each week during the three-month test period, even if it rains.
“It is important to gather critical operational and water-quality data over the next three months,” which will help the district as an environmental impact report is being done and the regular coastal development permit is being sought. “Reliable, accurate, timely and continuing data is important to the process.”
Meanwhile, CCSD directors are to consider again today revising the district’s water conservation measures, restrictions on the use of potable water and maximum water-use allotments.
Those measures have been extraordinarily successful. Gruber wrote in a Jan. 21 email that district customers used 38 percent less water in December than in the same month of 2013, and 38 percent less water in 2014 than in 2013.
Board members discussed at their December meeting a wide range of options — from letting customers use their allocated amounts of water however they choose (rather than continuing the current rule of no outside irrigation or washing of cars, sidewalks, driveways or buildings, etc.) to lifting the allocations altogether — before shelving the idea for at least a month to see what the weather would bring. What it didn’t deliver in January was much rain.
Directors also are scheduled to consider when to start levying those extra operational fees for the emergency water-supply project, especially during the plant’s three-month test period.
The meeting is to start at 12:30 p.m. at the Veterans Memorial Building, 1000 Main St. (For other items on the board’s agenda, check PublicMeetings on Pages 13 and 14.)
Yes, San Simeon occasionally needs more water than it has, especially during droughts. But an especially knotty problem for the tiny town’s services district is a higher-than-tasty level of chlorides in the water it has. In other words, when water levels drop in the town’s supply wells, the water can taste unpleasantly salty.
According to Charles Grace, general manager of the San Simeon Community Services District, that was definitely the case in mid-December, when levels were in the range of 3,200 milligrams per liter (mgl).
Normal is 32 mgl or less.
Chloride levels were rising even in the district’s backup, emergency well higher up the hill, which has in the past has maintained fairly normal chloride readings. In mid-December, those readings were in the 200-250 mgl range, Grace said, and “we were really on pins and needles.”
Then it rained. The freshwater rapidly filled the wells and diluted the chloride levels in the well water. But it didn’t last.
Soon, water in area creeks was flowing past San Simeon’s aquifer and now-filled wells to the sea. And that was the problem.
The freshwater underflow couldn’t continue to dilute the chloride-laced water because the wells were full.
On Jan. 14, the district’s water committee discussed its options and decided that the easiest way to reduce the chloride content was to let customers use up the water in the wells so the freshwater underflow could refill them. Later that day, the district board of directors agreed. No formal vote was needed, Grace said, because the district ordinance states the decision can be made by the chairperson and the general manager.
Lifting San Simeon’s water-use restrictions is a very temporary action, Grace said. Staff “will continue to diligently monitor creek flow, aquifer levels and chloride concentrations and will swiftly inform the community when conservation measures need to be re-implemented,” he said in a district newsletter.
In a Jan. 15 letter to customers, he announced the temporary lifting of water conservation stages 1, 2 and 3.
“The district will continue to pull water from the aquifer and blend chloride levels down to tolerable levels.”
Using the aquifer water “will encourage fresh creek water to be captured and, in turn, replenish the aquifer versus letting the water flow past … to be lost to the ocean.”
He explained that “water use for washing automobiles, sidewalks, structures and irrigation, etc., is permitted” … for now.