You can flush the toilets again at State Parks sites on the North Coast, but it will cost you $10 more to stay the night.
With the drought over, State Parks has turned on the water in North Coast restroom and bath facilities that had been closed since 2014 because of the governor’s declaration of statewide water-supply emergency.
At the time, Gov. Jerry Brown called for a 20 percent reduction in water use, asking Californians to conserve more during the drought. His declaration was an absolute mandate for state agencies, such as state parks, so some features that many visitors rely on were turned off. Some were replaced with portable facilities, such as portable toilets.
After a wet winter and soggy spring, Brown rescinded that emergency declaration in April.
Letting water flow again through San Simeon Creek campground taps, spigots, showers and toilets will affect Cambria’s water supplies, because the facility gets its water and sewage treatment from the Cambria Community Services District.
Facilities and rates
Dan Falat, superintendent of the San Luis Obispo Coast District, said that campers in the campground’s so-called “developed areas” now have access again to water near their sites, and the park’s restrooms and hot showers are fully functional.
Falat said that, because those services are restored, the nightly charge per site would increase June 1 to $35 a night, which was the rate before the water was turned off. The no-water rate had been $25 a night.
Just because we’re turning on the water doesn’t mean we’re shying away from water-conservation practices.
Brooke Gutierrez, State Parks sector superintendent
Campers who already have reservations at the old rate won’t be subject to the increase, Falat said, “just new reservations” made for June 1 and beyond and for walk-up/drive-up customers who arrive starting then.
Restrooms at Leffingwell Landing and Santa Rosa Day Use along Moonstone Beach Drive also are functional and flushing again, according to Brooke Gutierrez, sector superintendent.
Public restroom facilities at Hearst Castle’s visitor center were closed and replaced with portable toilets for a while because of the drought, but those services at the monument were restored some time ago.
The Castle’s leaky Neptune Pool was emptied in 2014 as part of the monument’s water conservation program. The 345,000-gallon pool won’t be refilled until an extensive repair project, currently underway, is completed.
Fountains on the hilltop also are being refilled.
The Castle has other sources of water, including its own water system linked to Hearst Ranch, which supplies the visitor center and the hilltop.
However, “just because we’re turning on the water doesn’t mean we’re shying away from water-conservation practices,” Gutierrez said. “We have to get prepared for it not to be raining like this every year.”
Falat agreed. “We’re still mindful of conserving water.”
As part of that effort, the San Luis Obispo Coast District and some State Parks districts throughout California are encouraging campers to take shorter showers.
For instance, visitors to the Morro Bay State Park campground already are buying tokens to pay for their showers, Gutierrez said. She said the slightly higher cost per token — each of which pays for a little less time under the spray — has indeed reduced water use in that park.
She said two tokens cost a buck now, and together they buy about 5 minutes of shower time. The quarter system cost about 50 cents for the same length of time.
Falat said that a side benefit to the tokens is “the really cool coins make great, inexpensive souvenirs. So we don’t always get them all back.”
While the tokens have customized artwork for each site, such as a peregrine falcon in Morro Bay, he said they can be used in any other park in the state that has installed that system.
At San Simeon Creek Campground, Gutierrez said, the plan is to “get through the summer” and then this fall they’ll install tankless hot-water heaters and the token system in the showers.
Having State Parks turn on the water will be a bit of a conundrum for Cambria’s services district, providing more funds to the CSD, but also providing an additional drain on the community’s often limited water supply.
Thanks to the rainy winter, that supply is flush now, according to the CSD’s well-level chart at www.cambriacsd.org/well-level-reports.html, but estimating how much water will be available through the busy summer and fall seasons is difficult at best.
No matter what the water supply is, State Parks’ usage will have an effect.
According to statistics provided by Gutierrez, in 2013, before the agency turned off the water in those areas, San Simeon Campground used nearly 2 million gallons of water.
In 2015, with the water off to the campsites and restrooms, the annual usage dropped 47 percent to 927,520 gallons.
Amanda Rice, president of the CSD’s board of directors, said Tuesday, May 16, that State Parks’ “decision to start using water again is a good thing,” especially for people who visit the various affected areas. She said she didn’t anticipate that the change “would make a tremendous dent in our water use,” and might not contribute a huge amount to district coffers, although the end results “remain to be seen.”
Rice said State Parks is “one of our biggest customers, for sure. We’re glad to be working with them again. We’re neighbors. It’s a good thing.”