The Cambrian

EIR on Cambria water plant inches closer to unveiling

Amanda Rice
Amanda Rice

The long-awaited final report on environmental impacts from Cambria’s Sustainable Water Facility (SWF) should make its debut within the next month.

As some concerned citizens have champed at the bit to get their hands on the finished report, Cambria Community Services District staff and consultants at Michael Baker International have spent the past eight months making changes to the project itself and the report about it, preparing responses to 418 comments in 225 letters from individuals and public agencies.

Those responses and the updated environmental impact report itself will be the topic of a special meeting that is supposed to be held by mid-June, according to Greg Sanders, vice president of the district’s board of directors and a member of the district’s water-supply ad hoc committee.

CSD board President Amanda Rice, the other member of that committee, said in a May 9 phone interview that the delay has been in part because “there were numerous comments that needed responses, and a lot of them were very technical. We want a quality project, and we have changed some things based on those comments.”

Sanders said in an emailed interview May 9 that “most of the comments from locals are not directly related to possible environmental impacts associated with the SWF. Rather, these comments focus on personal opinions about the SWF technology (a bias against reverse osmosis desalination technology).The substantive comments were made primarily by the public agencies.”

About the delay, Rice said the board and community “have waited a very long time for this, and we’re very frustrated to not be able to certify it by May 31,” as they had expected to do. “But we do want to make sure we have a quality product (EIR). So, we’re not going to be able to have the certification hearing until mid-June,” in part because “we want to give the community and the agencies enough time” to study the final report.

Most of the comments from locals are not directly related to possible environmental impacts associated with the (Sustainable Water Facility).

Greg Sanders, CCSD board vicer president

A vote by the five-member CSD board to certify the report would put the water-reclamation project one step closer to getting a permanent permit, rather than the county emergency permit under which the plant has operated since it was built in 2014, during the five-year-plus drought.

With a permanent permit, the CSD can operate the plant at will, rather than just during declared water-shortage emergencies, which is the case now.

Some people say they’re eager for that to happen, including residents who, during the drought, grew weary of rationing showers and flushing toilets, driving dirty vehicles and hauling bath water outside to irrigate plants.

Also on tenterhooks are the more than 660 property owners on a wait list to get a water meter (some of them since the late 1980s), or more accurately, to receive the district’s “intent to serve” letter that the landowners need to get a meter.

Project critics say the water-reclamation plant harms the environment, cost far too much at more than $13 million and growing, and will spur growth and change the community forever.

The road to the permanent permit could have some substantial ruts in it. Once the CSD board certifies the EIR and finalizes the plant’s development plan and Coastal Development Permit application, those hefty documents go to a hearing of the county Planning Commission, where those who oppose the project are likely to state their cases.

County planner Airlin Singewald, who has been processing the application for some time, said in an emailed reply May 9 that “while the county will not be certifying the final EIR (the CCSD as lead agency will do that), the county will consider and rely on the final EIR and adopt findings” under the California Environmental Quality Act. “Therefore, the environmental determination will also be a subject of the hearing.”

The commission’s decision can be appealed to the county supervisors. Their decision can be appealed to the state Coastal Commission.