The Cambrian

Vote on water-shortage declaration postponed at CCSD board meeting

Amanda Rice
Amanda Rice

Despite heavy winter rains, directors of Cambria’s services district delayed again a vote that would have removed a water-shortage declaration that has kept the agency from regularly issuing new water connections.

In a unanimous vote Thursday, Jan. 19, the Cambria Community Services District board of directors opted instead to table the discussion again. However, they vowed to discuss the issue frequently until the time is right. They also instructed General Manager Jerry Gruber to advise them regularly on long-range weather forecasts and regulations from the governor’s office on the drought situation.

Lifting the CSD’s declaration would have removed the 50-gallons-per-day-per-person allocation of water. With no allocations in place, no surcharges or penalties would apply for excessive water use, other than the higher rates paid by those who use more than the average or normal amount of water for the number of people in a residence, or to meet the water-use parameters of a business.

For now, restrictions remain in place, but the district currently isn’t enforcing surcharges or penalties for water use above what a customer is allocated. That issue will come up again at the Feb. 23 meeting, since, according to district counsel Tim Carmel, the current suspension of those surcharges expires at the end of that month.

Having no allocations or surcharges also could increase the district’s income from water sales.

The “Declaration of Water Code Section 350 Water Shortage Emergency Condition” went into effect in November 2001. Since then, the district has issued water-connection “intent to serve” letters to some projects, some of which were in the permit pipeline prior to the declaration. But there were nowhere near the number of new connections that might have been issued if the declaration hadn’t been in place during the past 15 years.

Sustainable Water Facility

Unless and until the district gets a permanent permit for its $14 million Sustainable Water Facility water-reclamation plant, the agency can only operate that plant if the community is under a declared water-shortage emergency.

The district built the plant in 2014 as an emergency project under an emergency permit from the county. One condition of the emergency permit was that the district had to get a permanent permit for the plant.

For some time, Director Jim Bahringer has been pushing for the district to lift the emergency declaration, but after previous discussions, the only decisions made were to postpone any action.

By Jan. 11 (according to a “green sheet” late addition to the Jan. 19 agenda), the district had received 20.10 inches of precipitation this rain season at the district’s rain gauge on a San Simeon Creek area well. Nearly 14 inches of rain fell on the wastewater treatment plant from Jan. 1 through Jan. 23, according to stats kept by department staff.

Even so, most of the board members weren’t comfortable Jan. 19 lifting the emergency declaration.

Director Michael Thompson said, “I'm very amenable to lifting the Stage 3. It’s just a matter of when's most appropriate. I hesitate to jump out ahead of the governor's declaration.” However, “I’d like to see this on every agenda.”

Although Bahringer had argued to remove the declaration, he went along with his peers in deciding to wait.

He had proposed adding another bullet point to the resolution, but was told by counsel Carmel that doing so would violate public-noticing laws. Bahringer had wanted to allow the general manager to reinstitute the Stage 3 declaration and operate the water-reclamation plant if certain water-supply conditions deteriorated, rather than requiring board action.

The rest of the meeting

The five-hour meeting was laced with lengthy discussions and some sharp confrontations. The clashes were about differences of opinion, professional decorum and public involvement that two CSD directors and their general manager described as bordering on harassment of the Cambria agency and others that regulate some of the district’s operations.

In other actions, the board unanimously approved:

▪  President Amanda Rice’s proposed board goals for 2017, which skew more toward policies and procedures than the specific tasks and projects covered by previous board goals. The latter are covered by the more policy-oriented 2017 goals, Rice said.

▪  Proposed updates to the district’s fire code, modifications the board is to formally approve at a hearing Feb. 23. One addition to the existing code would authorize fire personnel to enforce state and local weed-abatement regulations on developed properties. The district currently enforces those rules on undeveloped parcels only.

▪  Committee and liaison assignments for board members. After discussing the pros and cons of standing committees versus ad hoc/limited time committees, the board decided that nearly all the committees would be ad hoc for now, until the members have a chance to assess the situation in each of the departments covered. After that, according to Rice, some of the working groups might be converted to standing committees.

Current standing committees are the Executive Committee (Rice and Vice President Greg Sanders), Buildout Reduction Citizens’ Committee (no assignment made) and Parks, Recreation and Open Space Committee (directors Michael Thompson and Bahringer).

Ad hoc committees will be for: Finance (Rice and Sanders); Fire Department (Sanders and Thompson); infrastructure (directors Bahringer and Harry Farmer; and water supply (Rice and Sanders).

Directors’ liaison posts include: Bahringer to North Coast Advisory Council and Cambria Tourism Board; Farmer to Cambria Forest Committee and Friends of Fiscalini Ranch Preserve; Rice to Coast Unified School District; Sanders to Cambria Community Healthcare District; Thompson to the San Simeon Community Services District and Cambria FireSafe Focus Group.

Rice, or someone she designates, will be primary liaison to regulatory and other local, state or federal agencies.

The board also voted 3-2 to:

▪  Increase directors’ compensation back up to $100 per meeting (from the $75-per-day level that had been in force since June 2009, when district staff was cut back and directors took a solidarity cut in their own pay). Each director can now accrue $100 per day for a maximum of six days of service per month. Sanders and Thompson voted no.

▪  An additional $217,748 that would go to contractor CDM Smith for technical assistance, especially their support in detailed, self-monitoring reports required by state agencies, and for CDM Smith’s other work on the permitting process for the Sustainable Water Facility. Rice and Farmer voted no.