The Cambrian

How much will changes to Cambria water plant cost?

Rita Garcia of Michael Baker International presents a synopsis of the environmental impact report on Cambria’s Sustainable Water Facility.
Rita Garcia of Michael Baker International presents a synopsis of the environmental impact report on Cambria’s Sustainable Water Facility. sprovost@thetribunenews.com

How much will it cost Cambria to make its water plant permanent? Based on comments Thursday, it’s not altogether clear.

Concerns over costs, divisions over how much — or if — the community should grow and what might happen to the environment dominated the talk.

Cambria is seeking to transform the plant from a temporary answer to the drought into a permanent source of water. But concerns from a regional water board staffer and questions from board members about costs made it clear that an environmental report (EIR) prepared for the project is far from the final word on the issue.

The Cambria services district board had planned to vote on the EIR that day. But members postponed action indefinitely after the district’s lawyer said information on the project’s Adaptive Management Plan had only been posted online the day before.

Report and critique

Rita Garcia, project manager for Michael Baker International, which prepared the EIR, said eight public agencies and more than 200 other people/organizations had commented on the project. None of those comments, she said, affected the report’s conclusions, which she said “remain valid.”

The EIR focused on seven environmental issues: aesthetics, air quality, biological resources, cultural resources, hydrology/water quality, land use and noise.

The final plan calls for removing five spray evaporators and decommissioning an evaporation pond that was part of the original project but proved ineffective. To make matters worse, rainwater during heavy storms this winter filled the pond, violating Regional Water Quality Control Board requirements on water levels. .

The water board staff does not agree with the decommissioning procedure.

Jon Rokke, Regional Water Quality Control Board

Under the plan Garcia presented, the pond would be converted into a water storage basin, with the addition of a pump station and surface water treatment plant. Concentrated brine waste from the Sustainable Water Facility would be stored in four “Baker tanks” until it could be disposed of off site.

How much would all that cost?

Director Harry Farmer said he didn’t know.

“We don’t know the cost of this new surface water treatment plant,” Farmer said. “We don’t know the cost of the Baker tanks that are involved.” He also repeated a critique of the project he mentioned before his election to the board last year: that regular trips to dispose of brine waste near Kettleman City would be costly financially and in terms of the pollution and “karmic debt.”

Jon Rokke, representing the water board, had a different objection. Rokke cautioned directors that “the water board staff does not agree with the decommissioning procedure” outlined in the EIR.

Specifically, he said, the water board staff doesn’t want the district to simply let liquids evaporate before leftover solids are removed. “We’re letting you know now that the evaporation of the liquids … will not be an acceptable option,” he said.

The water board has a cease-and-desist order pending against the district over the issue and will consider whether to adopt, modify or reject that order at a public hearing July 13 at 275 Main St., fourth floor, in Watsonville. The public can comment on the matter until June 21 at the board’s website.

Public, board reaction

In all, 11 members of the public spoke, nine of whom expressed opposition to the EIR. The main concerns fell into two categories: environmental impacts and the cost of the project.

Board President Amanda Rice said decommissioning the brine pond was necessary but questioned whether converting it into a storage basin should have been part of the EIR. “I’m not sure that the impacts of those things are fully explored in this EIR.”

Board Vice President Greg Sanders, however, responded that the time to raise such concerns was in October, at a public hearing held before the EIR was completed.

These issues could have been raised months ago, and now at the 11th hour, you’re raising them. I think it’s very disingenuous.

Greg Sanders, Cambria CSD board vice president

“It really is too late in the game to be bringing a lot of these issues to our attention today because the product — the work product, the final EIR — is now finished,” he told the audience.

Turning his attention to Rice, he said, “These issues,” he said, “could have been raised months ago, and now at the 11th hour, you’re raising them. I think it’s very disingenuous.”

Director Mike Thompson said allowing new water connections in town — which could be made possible by additional water from the new plant — could provide the district with needed income. . The district would collect fees for these connections.

“We need to have some degree of growth in this community so we can pay for these things that needed to be paid for,” he said, as well as providing a greater opportunity for those who want to live in Cambria to do so.

But residents who oppose growth on environmental and other grounds have criticized proponents, who they say have sought the project all along as a means to facilitate growth.

Stephen H. Provost: 805-927-8896, @sproauthor

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