The Cambrian

Water board warns Cambria CSD on plan to remove brine

Water levels at the Cambria Community Services District containment pond have dropped somewhat since this photo was taken during the spring.
Water levels at the Cambria Community Services District containment pond have dropped somewhat since this photo was taken during the spring.

The regional water board said a plan to dispose of brine in Cambria’s impoundment basin wasn’t enough, meaning the district and its ratepayers could, potentially, face new fines.

They haven’t reached that point yet, representatives on both sides said Thursday, and the board and Cambria’s services district are talking in hopes that:

1) The district can find a way to more quickly dispose of the brine in its impoundment basin and

2) That in doing so, it can avoid any financial penalties.

A letter from the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) to CCSD General Manager Jerry Gruber, dated Aug. 21, mentioned that those penalties were a possibility under a cease-and-desist order filed by the board.

“Failure to comply with Cease and Desist Order No. R3-2017-0016 may result in the assessment of civil liability of up to $1,000 per violation per day … or $5,000 per violation per day,” the letter read, citing two different water code sections.

Chris Adair, program manager at the water board, said such penalties aren’t imminent: “The amount and timing of further assessments are not part of our internal discussions at this point,” he wrote in response to an email from The Cambrian.

What’s at issue

Under the cease-and-desist order, the board gave the CCSD 30 days from July 13 to submit a plan to remove all brine wastes from its pond.

The district submitted a plan, but, according to the board’s letter, it didn’t do enough to assure the water board that the brine in the impoundment basin on San Simeon Creek Road will be removed quickly.

The amount and timing of further assessments are not part of our internal discussions at this point.

Chris Adair, regional water board program manager

The letter referred to a district memo as stating that “ion exchange treatment along with disposal in Cambria CSD’s percolation ponds, would remove the brine at the earliest possible date.”

However, the board letter reads, the memo “provides no technical justification for choosing evaporation,” other than describing alternatives as “financially burdensome.”

Adair said in his email to The Cambrian that Gruber has assured him the district will “submit supporting documentation as soon as possible.”

Gruber, responding to an email from the Cambrian on Wednesday, said the district’s staff is “working in conjunction with CDM Smith to address and resolve the items noted within the letter.”

He said he planned a conference call with CDM Smith, the engineering firm that designed and built the pond, adding that the district will work “collaboratively with the RWQCB.”

At this point, I am not concerned.

Greg Sanders, Cambria Community Services District board vice president

Greg Sanders, vice president of the CCSD Board of Directors, said late Wednesday in an email that the district is cooperating fully with the water board.

“At this point, I am not concerned,” he wrote. “The letter mentions the possibility of fines because it has to. We are also looking at an ion-exchange filter system that will remove the boron from the brine before it is trucked to a sewer treatment plant.”

The impoundment basin was originally intended as an evaporation pond that was to be part of the district’s $13.2 million Sustainable Water Facility. However, it proved ineffective, and the district plans to convert it into a water storage basin.

The district has already agreed to pay $53,596 in water board penalties stemming from a separate issue: a complaint that the district had failed to submit timely self-monitoring reports, as the board required.

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