Gov. Jerry Brown has lifted the official drought emergency declaration for most of the state, but some North Coast super-conserving residents and entrepreneurs say they’re not going to make many changes in how they’ve been using water in their homes or their businesses.
On Friday, April 7, Brown rescinded the state of emergency he’d imposed in January 2014. He also lifted most of the drought-related, restrictive executive orders he’d issued when the drought was at its worst in 2015.
Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Tuolumne counties, where wells have gone dry, still require emergency drinking-water projects.
An extremely wet winter had drenched much of the state after one of the driest periods in the state’s recorded history. Many reservoirs and wells are full or at pre-drought levels. So the governor’s action was not a surprise.
The governor, state, county and local officials expect that Californians (and North Coasters) will continue to conserve water. As Brown said in the official announcement, “the next drought could be around the corner.”
But, Californians still cannot hose off sidewalks, irrigate landscapes or lawns during or immediately after rain or revert to other water-wasting habits.
Water-providing agencies must continue reporting water usage and adhere to new rules that have yet to be finalized.
Storm runoff caused massive mudslides (including in Big Sur, where Highway 1’s damaged Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge is being replaced).
Other area roadways also suffered during the deluges, especially Cambria’s Santa Rosa Creek Road, where potholes and slipouts have reduced a few sections to one bumpy lane. Some participants in the Eroica California vintage bicycle ride discovered that on Sunday, April 9, as they dodged holes in the road, vehicle traffic and each other.
The Cambria Community Services District Board of Directors soon will face their next drought-is-over decision: Whether to keep district at Stage 2 drought-emergency status, drop to a Stage 1 or remove the drought-related declaration altogether. The most severe Stage 3 level had been in force until a March 23 vote by directors.
Board Vice President Greg Sanders said by email Monday, April 10 that he feels “the CCSD should keep the Stage 2 declaration in effect until the end of April so that the well levels can be measured. If the well levels are full (then), I would support repealing the Stage 2 declaration. History teaches us that, if the wells are full in early May, the district will have sufficient water to last through to the next rainy season” especially with Cambrians’ ongoing water-conservation practices.
Board President Amanda Rice said by phone Monday that “I don’t see us going to zero (no drought declaration), but it’s a board decision. For us, it depends more on when the last rain is.”
Director Harry Farmer said by phone Tuesday, April 10, that he’d probably vote to reduce the drought-stage declaration. “It appears we’re in pretty good shape” for the 2017 water supply.
A more problematic issue is whether the board can now start releasing new water connections and/or the new intent-to-serve letters that prospective homebuilders could take to the county to begin their permit-getting process.
It’s confusing. The district has been operating under two separate water-restricting regulations, the drought declaration the board put in place in 2014, and the 2001 water-shortage-based moratorium on new water connections.
Sanders, who is an attorney, said, “no new hookups are permitted as long as the district is under the Water Code Section 350 moratorium declaration,” although “there are a few grandfathered water positions left from the moratorium declaration that would be permitted to hook up.”
He believes “the moratorium can’t be lifted until a regular coastal development permit is approved for the SWF (Sustainable Water Facility) and the district is assured that there is sufficient water storage capacity for fire protection. We still need to replace a water tank at the Stuart Street complex.
“I will not vote to issue intent-to-serve letters, release meters or authorize new hookups to the water system (except the grandfathered water positions)” until those requirements have been met, Sanders said.
Some North Coast business owners and representatives said Tuesday that any changes they’ll make now to their water-conservation practices will be slight.
Fidel Figueroa of San Simeon Beach Bar & Grill said in a text interview that “we still will be very careful” not to waste water, but now “we can water our grass and our plants,” serve water to their customers and “do all of our laundry” themselves instead of using a commercial linen service for half of it.
Bram Winter of the Cambria Pines Lodge said “we’ve always been very drought conscious here,” even installing in 2015 a special, pressurized air-precleaning system for dirty dishes. Dechlorinated backflow from the swimming pool is used to irrigate landscaping, as is runoff collected from ice machines, excess water served to restaurant customers and stored non-potable water. Laundry facilities use ozone technology and water-reuse methods.
In rooms with spa tubs, Winter said, “there are big signs over the tubs explaining the drought and asking people not to use them.”
One change at the Lodge (and at some other area restaurants)? “We’ve stopped serving bottled water in the restaurant,” Winter said, a practice that’s fraught with its own environmental problems.
Mary Ann Carson, executive director of the Cambria Chamber of Commerce, said Tuesday that the people likely to be most pleased about the governor’s action are the area’s visitors, some of whom were profoundly unhappy about having to use portable toilets in some places, instead of conventional restrooms.
“We had people say they wouldn’t visit again, especially to a place that doesn’t have enough water for personal cleanliness,” she said. However, “I think we’ve all learned valuable lessons from the drought, and we’ll continue to conserve … which we should do anyway.”
Dan Falat, superintendent of the district that includes Hearst Castle and most state parks in the county, said Tuesday his staff is checking all park restroom and water-related campground services idled during the drought, doing repairs as necessary to “make sure the facilities are ready and fully functional for public use.”
Once that happens at the Hearst San Simeon State Park campground, he said, the parks district will be increasing its use of water supplied by the CCSD.
For some time, Hearst Castle Visitor Center restrooms have been operational again, Falat said, but some other state park units have relied on portable toilets since the drought began to worsen.
The county Planning Commission and the public will be updated on Thursday, April 27 on three Cambria-area emergency permits for storm-related damage. Those permits are for:
▪ Emergency drainage improvements at the CCSD Sustainable Water Facility, 990 San Simeon Creek Road. Storm water had flowed across the roadway from properties north of the public roadway and onto the area where a pond holds residual brine from the treatment process.
▪ Repairing a large slipout on Santa Rosa Creek Road by Ferrasci Road.
▪ Fixing a problematic section of Burton Drive at the slope toward the Cambria Hardware parking lot.
The meeting is at 9 a.m. at 1055 Monterey St., Room D170, San Luis Obispo.