The cost of water in Cambria has risen again, now that the services district has restarted its $13 million emergency water supply plant on San Simeon Creek Road. As of Sept. 15, an additional fee charged only when the plant is operating is being tacked onto the bills customers of the Cambria Community Services District will receive in early November, and from then on, as long as the plant is running.
And more rate hikes are in the works: According to a rate-increase-process schedule that General Manager Jerry Gruber will explain to the district Board of Directors and those in the audience at the meeting Thursday, Sept. 24. If more than half of the district’s ratepayers don’t object to the increases in water and wastewater-treatment services — the amounts for which haven’t yet been revealed — those increases could go onto bills as of Jan. 1.
At the same meeting (12:30 p.m., Veterans Memorial Building, 1000 Main St.), the board also is to discuss and decide about officially initiating a groundwater management plan that’s being required if the district is to receive a $4.3 million state drought-grant to help pay for the emergency water supply project that treats a brackish blend of fresh, salty and waste water and injects it back into the aquifer.
The plant was to have been in full operation by the end of this month, Gruber wrote in an email interview.
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The board approved the operational rate hikes last year, along with a separate year-round increase that helps pay toward expenses for building the plant.
The fees are charged in escalating tiers that become progressively more expensive when the customer uses more water. For instance, the ongoing charge ranges from an extra $1.50 to $4.50 per unit of water (748 gallons). The operational charge (the one that was added earlier this month) can range from $1.50 to $5 per unit.
According to district statistics, for a typical single-family home using about 6,000 gallons of water every two months, the 2014 EWS-related rate hikes increased the bimonthly water bill to $85.02 from $48.02 while the EWS project is not operating, and to $109.02 when it is being used.
EWS plant start-up costs include up to $10,000 for H2O Innovated Technologies, Gruber said, adding that expenses incurred for the services of CDM Smith are covered by previous contracts and change orders.
The EWS is supposed to provide drinking water when district supplies are getting dangerously low.
As of Sept. 14, the amount of water in district wells was at near-normal levels for this time of year, despite the four-year drought that has reduced much of California to a dust bowl and has killed many of Cambria’s native Monterey pines — an estimated 40 to 50 percent in the entire stand, and up to 90 percent in some areas, according to recent estimates by Cal Fire.
Gruber said adding the operational charges onto consumers’ bills will generate nearly $70,000 in revenue every two-month billing cycle, which he said won’t cover the total operational costs of running the plant.
“It is important to note that we are not running the EWS to generate revenue for the district,” he wrote in a Sept. 16 email interview. ““The CCSD is taking a proactive instead of a reactive approach in starting up the EWS to ensure a safe and reliable source of drinking water and to make sure that an adequate supply of water is available for drought-stricken Cambria for fire-suppression abilities.”
He said, “No one knows the impact that four years of extended drought is going to have on our wells. Although an El Niño year is being predicted, we cannot assume that it will rain soon.”
Gruber stressed that once water-level measurements in a key monitoring well near the Windsor Bridge across Santa Rosa Creek fall to 3 feet, “we can no longer use the Santa Rosa (creek) wells 3 and 4. At that time, we become totally dependent upon the San Simeon (creek) wells that had a combined level of only 12.59 feet in them as on Sept. 14.”
In the interview, Gruber said the waste brine from the reclamation process will be pumped into the EWS plant’s holding pond as before, but “at this time” blowers won’t be spraying the brine across the surface of the pond to help hasten the evaporation process. Noise and drifting mist from the blowers had been contentious issues with such agencies as neighboring State Parks and the Regional Water Quality Control Board.
Installation began Sept. 14 on equipment to aerate the water heading for the lagoon on State Parks property and keep chlorine and other chemicals out of the lagoon water. Engineer Bob Gresens estimated in his written meeting report that work should be complete by the end of September.
At today’s meeting, Gruber also is expected to provide timelines for completing state and federal environmental impact reports for the EWS project, which are needed if the district is to get a regular permit, which could allow more flexibility in using the plant.
For more about the meeting, see www.cambriacsd.org.