The Independence Day holiday weekend was a quiet one for emergency and services-district crews, and officials say they’re grateful to the public for heeding their warnings about fire danger, emergency preparation and the fact that it’s illegal on the North Coast to possess or use fireworks of any kind.
Cambria Community Services District directors were told by their general manager, Jerry Gruber, during a special meeting Tuesday, July 7, that, from a district perspective, the weekend essentially went off without a hitch.
Despite pressures from the ongoing drought and the delicate balancing act of keeping the nitrate levels down in the wastewater treatment plant, “everything went smoothly, thanks to staff,” he said. That holiday period is the busiest of the year for the departments, with “the biggest demand on the water system and wastewater system.”He said about 2 million gallons of waste went through the sewage-treatment process.
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The district’s $13 million emergency water supply system is currently idle, and when it will be restarted depends on the community’s water supply and work being done at the wastewater treatment plant to reduce the nitrate levels in the effluent.
While water levels in district wells have been falling, that drop-off isn’t yet precipitous, according to the most recent reports (June 15) issued by the district.
The project, a water-reclamation plant, filters and treats a brackish blend of fresh and salt water and treated effluent from the district’s wastewater treatment plant. After the water goes through the EWS process, the highly treated liquid is injected back into the ground to recharge the basin and help replenish the aquifer and district source wells.
The project underwent its test run this year that concluded in mid-April.
Cambria is under a water-supply emergency declaration, which has been in place since 2001, and a drought-emergency declaration in effect since January 2014. The state and county also are under drought-emergency declarations.
District officials maintained the community could have run out of water during last year’s drought, but ratepayers did a remarkable job of conserving water, reducing their consumption by nearly 40 percent in 2014.
Operation of and permanent permitting for the EWS project are being challenged in a lawsuit filed by LandWatch San Luis Obispo County. Judge Ginger Garrett on June 8 moved that lawsuit forward, denying the district’s motion to dismiss it. Garrett called for another status conference in late August, saying the case wasn’t yet ready for trial.
On June 25, Gruber noted that defending that case already had cost the district more than $100,000.
During their June 25 meeting, district directors heard from Dean Florez, their lobbyist from Balance Public Relations, that he, Gruber, engineer Bob Gresens and some board members had been in the offices of quite a few influential people in Sacramento recently, “communicating the district’s vision” of having the EWS online permanently and upgrading the wastewater-treatment plant so the effluent it produces meets or exceeds state standards.
Current estimates range from $7 to $10 million for the cost of work that consulting firm Corollo Engineers says needs to be done at the wastewater plant.
Florez noted with a chuckle that “working with the state is like moving a cemetery from one side of the street to the other. It’s slow, tedious and you have to follow process.”
To expedite that process, he said, the district “needs clear, defined goals,” and he’ll be working with CCSD staff and directors over the next month to help refine that message so it can be communicated more effectively.
Grant and loan
Florez, a former state senator, said new guidelines for a state funding program for water recycling projects mean application can be submitted at the same time for grants and low-interest loans.
Florez said the district’s application is “in review.” The good news, he said, is that “you have a project manager assigned” to the application, and the next 30 days or so will be packed with back-and-forth communications between that person and the district.
Florez predicted that “they will take small pieces of your information, analyze it and send you 20 questions” about each piece. “You’ll answer, and they’ll send you 15 more questions. You’ll answer those, and they’ll send you 20 more questions on the first 20 questions,” and so on. “It’s a very thorough process.”
Florez said he was quite encouraged by a “wonderful conversation” with Lisa Mangat, the new director of State Parks, in which some previous conflicts were discussed and explained. “Everyone wants to start a new day and work together cooperatively … to find a better way to deal with the issues the district has had trouble with. … We have to work from a teamwork perspective” to keep the positive dialogues going.
That meeting included board Vice President Muril Clift and Gresens, Florez said.
Clift said it was a “very productive meeting, very open. … I think it’s a whole new ballgame. In the past, I wasn’t the greatest supporter of State Parks, and I discussed that” with the director, “talking about a whole new day, whole new way or looking at things. Senator Florez was kind of the arbiter, the negotiator.”
Clift said that with Florez’s guidance, “we’ve been very effective in meeting with agency people who will have a lot of effect on us.” In the past, “we’ve made contacts with people we think are the decision makers, when in fact there are many decision makers in many agencies I didn’t even know existed … Senator Florez has been able to get us into those offices.”
Clift, Board President Gail Robinette and Florez all praised Gresens’ ability to share his technical knowledge and his willingness to rise to the occasion at the last minute. Robinette said she called the engineer at home at 7:45 on the morning of the State Parks afternoon meeting in Sacramento.
After Robinette explained the situation to Gresens, she said, he didn’t hesitate but immediately said, “I think I’ll get in the car and drive to Sacramento,” which he did.
Robinette said that was “really a tribute to your dedication and how much you care.
After the Florez presentation, Director Amanda Rice said that while communicating the vision, the longer-term goal is what needs to happen, that’s difficult to do when the vision is still “a little ephemeral. It would be nice to have that discussion at the board level,” because “any more, it’s not just about permitting for the emergency water supply project, and you (Florez) can’t advocate a vision that isn’t clear.”
Florez said that he plans to lay out all that at the board’s July 23 meeting, including short-term EWS goals and a mid- to long-term solution for the wastewater treatment plant. He called it “the big picture” addressing “a lot of agencies with a lot of different agendas and old problems they have in their minds.”
He said the district needs to explain some of those issues and help the agencies move on.
“I’ll try to give you a pipeline to the whole process.”