The Cambrian

Cambria’s Sustainable Water Facility is not what CSD paid for, lawsuit says

Cambria’s Sustainable Water Facility.
Cambria’s Sustainable Water Facility.

The Cambria Community Services District is suing the contractor that designed and built the town’s Emergency Water Supply project, which was later renamed the Sustainable Water Facility.

The district alleges that CDM Smith didn’t provide what it agreed to design and build — an emergency water project that could be converted to provide supplemental water to the community in non-emergency situations, according to the lawsuit filed Sept. 21 in Superior Court on behalf of the district by the law firms of Rutan & Tucker of Costa Mesa and Carmel & Naccasha of San Luis Obispo.

The project was to treat a blend of salt, fresh and treated wastewater, drawn as a blend from the underground aquifer. After that blend went through several different treatment processes, including reverse osmosis, the treated water would go back into the aquifer.

The district charges CDM Smith with breach of contract and professional negligence in executing the project, especially in the initial modeling, analyses and evaluations, research parameters, design and construction of a lined pond into which residual brine from the water-treatment process would be pumped so it could evaporate.

The suit says “critical to the feasibility of the evaporation pond was whether it could be designed in a manner that satisfied the legal prerequisites for such ‘surface impoundments.’”

That includes a minimum 5-foot separation between the bottom of the proposed pond and the “highest anticipated” groundwater elevation underlying the pond floor.

Eventually, “significant errors in the analysis” combined with a “worst-case 1,000-year storm” in 2017, and stormwater entered the pond, increasing the water elevation above level allowed by state regulations.

The Regional Water Quality Control Board subsequently issued a cease and desist order and levied fines. The regional board stated that failure of the pond to meet state regulations “highlights a flaw in the surface impoundment design and the hydrogeological assessments” provided by the design.

The suit notes that “to date, the district has incurred approximately $3.5 million in damages as a result of defendants’ breaches as set forth” in the lawsuit. That’s what the district hopes to recoup, plus attorney, court and other costs.

The suit also says the project cost “in excess of $10 million.” The legal document also says “in a direct result of CDM’s flawed reports, the district spent in excess of $2.5 million constructing a pond that is now unusable for its intended purpose and which now must be emptied and decommissioned at great expense to the district.”

The district hasn’t yet received a response from CDM Smith as far as The Cambrian can determine.

Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune