The Cambrian

Cambria CSD says error exaggerated water-loss figures

Elizabeth Bettenhausen appears before the CCSD board as a public speaker in 2014.
Elizabeth Bettenhausen appears before the CCSD board as a public speaker in 2014.

After a volley of emails flew back and forth between a concerned citizen and Cambria’s services district in the past few months, district officials addressed again her questions about the validity of water production data, especially in September and October 2016.

It was a kind of math problem, according to the officials.

The data show how much water the district diverted from the San Simeon and Santa Rosa creek aquifers, and how much was produced by the separate water-reclamation process of the Sustainable Water Facility. Another sheet shows how much water was actually delivered to customers.

The difference is often referred to as “unallocated water,” for which the district hasn’t billed.

Together, the charts are designed to provide a checks-and-balance system for tracking water use, water billed, water used by the district and water “lost” or “unallocated” for which the district didn’t send bills or get payment.

Elizabeth Bettenhausen of Cambria had calculated that, according to the original statistics, the district “lost” 8.6 million gallons of water in September and October alone, a staggering 28 percent loss.

Bottom line, according to explanations from Jerry Gruber, general manager of the Cambria Community Services District, and district engineer Bob Gresens? The draft data, they said at the Dec. 19 district board meeting, included a mistake that made the losses seem much larger than they were.

Gresens said the incorrect chart added together how much water the district diverted from the two subterranean aquifers, plus the amount of water produced by the CSD’s Sustainable Water Facility.

The water-production chart should only have combined the figures for the water diverted from the aquifers, the engineer said.

Gruber said the CSD’s “real” stats are a lot better than the “holy cow!” issue it would have been at 28 percent.

The officials said the district’s water loss during that period was about 11 to 13 percent (Gresens said 11, Gruber said 13), not the 28 percent that the faulty data sheets seemed to show. Gresens’ slide presentation, which he’d prepared the night before, included a draft chart with revised figures.

Whatever the final figure turns out to be, the CSD’s losses still are higher than the district’s 8 percent goal for water loss, Gresens explained, although 11 percent is close to the 10 percent criteria that the district’s 2015 Urban Water Management Plan cites as being “commonly accepted” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Some water losses are real, Gresens said, from leaks that can be substantial or pinhole, with the latter being more sensitive to water pressure than water quantity. Pipes can break or leak. Pumps can leak or fail. Gaskets can leak. Aging water meters often don’t measure accurately how much water is passing through them (the district is slowly replacing pricey meters).

The district has some internal water use that isn’t billed. And unmetered water can be used in other functions, such as fighting fires and testing fire hydrants, but not much of that has happened lately. Gresens said he and Fire Chief William Hollingsworth are investigating ways of metering such use.

In an email sent after the meeting, Bettenhausen said, with the modified stats, her math now shows a loss rate of 14.75 percent.

“The difference between pumped water and billed water in my math is 14.75 percent in 2016. CCSD now comes up with 13 percent. What’s happening is the naming of some water as backwash and diversion but without definition.

“The big question still sits there: how come the difference is still much higher than 8 percent loss? I asked them some time ago to develop a clear water audit protocol with assigned personnel for monitoring.”

The plant

The $14 million Sustainable Water Facility reclamation plant 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 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 plant was operating last fall for a state-required test tracking how long it takes for the treated water to get from the plant to district wells. It’s not running now.

When to tell the people

Another outcome of the prolonged internal water-audit is up for further debate: When to release the water-production data to the public, when it’s still in draft form, or waiting until the stats have been confirmed as accurate.

While Director Harry Farmer asked to have Gruber’s Power Point presentation posted soon on the district’s website,, Gruber and Director Jim Bahringer said the data should be verified before it’s posted.

“It should be accurate, not draft,” Bahringer said.

Gruber said that, after water department staffers “read the town,” or collect water-use data from the meters, and prepare the draft chart, “to the untrained eye, it can look like a serious discrepancy. Now, when we read the town, we’ll pull back a little bit, come up with methodology and make sure we have good accurate data. It will result in a little delay but good accurate information.”

New protocols

Gruber and Gresens said they’ve established new protocols to make sure any mistakes are caught earlier, and those protocols will improve communications among the different departments, such as engineering, administration, operations and billing. Those staffers are to sit down together every billing cycle to go over the data.

That will be helpful, Gresens said, in having the district meet a requirement of the 2014 Senate Bill 555. The district, and others like it, must submit a full water audit by October, the first time the new regulation goes into effect.