Cambria’s emergency water supply (EWS) plant will operate for nearly three more weeks than originally scheduled, now ending its maiden-voyage test run April 30, according to a unanimous vote by the Cambria Community Services District Board of Directors at a special meeting April 7.
The plant was to have shut down Friday, April 10.
The directors also approved charging customers an operating surcharge that’s only levied when the project is providing water for the community. Directors had opted not to add it to customers’ bills during the three-month test run, but agreed April 7 to let Finance Manager Patrick O’Reilly tack it onto the bills for about half of the plant’s extra operational time.
O’Reilly had told them doing so would allow his department to test some costly modifications to billing software.
At The Cambrian’s request, the finance manager calculated that a “typical residential customer in a two-person household” that uses about 6,000 gallons per two-month billing period would pay a $2.25 EWS operating charge for the 11 days. Customers will see that charge on the bills they receive in May, O’Reilly said.
Since July 1, customers have been paying another surcharge to help pay for the $10 million project.
Once the plant is shut down, crews will mothball it until about mid-July. It will then be restarted to provide water for the community and allow staff to perform another “tracer test” that uses a trackable element in the treated water to determine how long it takes to flow from where it’s injected to the district’s supply wells.
A state water agency requires that the flow process take at least 60 days from injecting the treated tracer water to when it arrives at the supply wells.
During this summer’s tracer test, the community will be able to use water from one San Simeon Creek Road supply well at a time, unlike last year, when restrictions didn’t allow the use of any water from that well field during the first tracer test.
The approved motion calls for the plant to be shut down again about mid-September. That time frame could be modified by a subsequent vote of the board if drought conditions and water supplies require it, or if accomplishing an extra month of operation then might allow the district to start up the plant the next time under less stringent testing and monitoring requirements that would allow some automated operations without direct supervision.
Before those requirements might be reduced, a state water board requires six months of operation with qualified staff always on site for monitoring and detailed recordkeeping.
The new EWS May-through-mid-July downtime also will allow district staff some breathing room to continue its training, learn start-up and shut-down procedures (a mentoring process that will be videotaped for later reference), and accomplish other tasks. Those tasks are difficult to perform while the plant is running, Justin Smith, water department supervisor, told CCSD directors. The gap in operations will give staff “a small window to catch our breath to really dial this in,” he said.
Operations through April 30 will be under the direction of the district’s contractor, CDM Smith, which will participate for the additional time at no extra cost, district General Manager Jerry Gruber told his board members.
According to stats in the district’s March 26 meeting agenda packet, CDM Smith had been paid more than $8.7 million for its work on the plant.
The EWS plant is designed to operate during declared droughts and extremely dry seasons, when more water is being drawn out of the San Simeon Creek aquifer than is flowing into it from underflow in the creek watershed.
The project, a water-reclamation plant on district property, filters and treats a brackish blend of fresh and salt water and treated effluent from the district’s wastewater treatment plant. After the water goes through the EWS process, the highly treated liquid is injected back into the ground to recharge the basin and help replenish the aquifer and district source wells.
The project underwent its three-month test run under an emergency permit from the county. District officials maintained the community could have run out of water during last year’s drought, but ratepayers did a remarkable job of conserving water, reducing their already water-conscious consumption level by nearly 40 percent in 2014.