The Cambrian

Is evaporation an acceptable fix for Cambria brine problem?

The impoundment basin on San Simeon Creek Road is seen in 2016, before last winter’s rains.
The impoundment basin on San Simeon Creek Road is seen in 2016, before last winter’s rains.

The regional water board and Cambria’s services district are discussing about just how to clear the brine waste out of the CCSD impoundment basin.

The main questions:

1) Is evaporation an acceptable option to the water board?

2) Can the district afford to do anything else?

The Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board filed a cease-and-desist order (CDO) in July, demanding the CCSD remove the brine waste from the basin as quickly as possible.

At issue: the method the district has chosen for doing so, which relies heavily on evaporation.

At a July 13 hearing on the CDO, the water board’s Jon Rokke said waiting for the water to evaporate from the basin was not an option.

The district, however, responded to the order a month later with a proposal that continued to rely largely on evaporation.

The water board was not satisfied.

In its Aug. 21 letter, it contends that the district provided “no technical justification for choosing evaporation,” other than describing alternatives as financially burdensome.

CCSD General Manager Jerry Gruber confirmed the financial aspect of the district’s proposal at a services district board meeting Thursday, Aug. 24.

“We’re working diligently on responding to this,” he said. “We still feel that evaporation is the best option for quite a few reasons, mostly for the financial benefits.”

He added: “We anticipated there would be some back-and-forth dialogue, and that’s what’s occurring.”

Gruber, Jerry - 2016
Jerry Gruber

That dialogue, he said, would include twice-monthly updates from CCSD staff. It also includes a letter from the district to the water board dated Aug. 25, in which Gruber stated that “it would be an extreme cost burden to empty the pond by various means prior to the start of the coming rainy season.”

Gruber added in the letter that the district had found no evidence that water from the basin had leaked into the groundwater system during the past five months of monitoring: “Therefore, we are of the opinion that the impoundment never leaked into the groundwater, and is not currently leaking.”

He also wrote that the district will be working with a hydrologist to evaluate the situation.

The Aug. 21 letter from the water board mentioned that financial penalties “of up to $1,000 per violation per day … or $5,000 per violation per day” (depending on which section of the state water code is invoked) were possible if the CCSD failed to comply with the cease-and-desist order.

However, Chris Adair, program manager at the water board, said in an email to The Cambrian on Wednesday, Aug. 23, that such penalties aren’t imminent: “The amount and timing of further assessments are not part of our internal discussions at this point.”

It would be an extreme cost burden to empty the pond by various means prior to the start of the coming rainy season.

Jerry Gruber, CCSD general manager

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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