The Cambrian

Desal test enviro study under review

A 26-page document from Cambria’s services district will play a pivotal role in progress towards a desalination plant designed to augment the town water supply

The Cambria Community Services District originally planned to study the possibility of putting subsurface seawater intake wells near the mouth of San Simeon Creek, in a relatively pristine coastal area. When permission to do so was turned back by the California Coastal Commission until the district could show it had exhausted all other alternatives, the district began an in-depth look at the mouth of Santa Rosa Creek, nearby developed residential, commercial and recreational areas.

To easily obtain permits to do more tests needed to find out if the subsurface geology near the creek mouth is suitable for seawater intake, scientists must prove that tests they want to do won’t damage the environment. The district board will

consider on Jan. 28 adopting an initial study and environmental report that say scientific investigations near Shamel Park and the Santa Rosa Creek beach won’t do any permanent or extensive harm.

A study runs through a checklist of environmental impacts on the habitat, including plants, animals and humans. The proposed environmental document is available online at

The public can comment on the report until 5 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 16. Send comments to David Foote, firma, 1034 Mill St., San Luis Obispo CA 93401, or david@firmaconsultants. co m

After taking emphatic public testimony Dec. 14 about possible environmental damage from the tests and the desalination project itself, district directors ordered the environmental review to bolster an initial study.

For the geotech testing, scientists would drill up to 10 holes in the sand and select up to three of those holes for monitoring wells. Water tests also would be performed in the other holes, but those wouldn’t be in place as long.

The report says equipment would be removed from the beach at the end of each workday.

“Public access onto the beach will be maintained at all times,” the report asserts, and “the study will not change the uses of Santa Rosa Creek Beach or Shamel Park.”

Out of 87 potential impacts listed, the district’s proposed neg dec classifies 10 as having less than significant impact, and the remaining 77 as having no impact.

Board President Greg Sanders said Friday, Jan. 22, the report is “a good one,” and “environmental concerns have been reviewed … There are no environmental impacts … associated with drilling 10 holes in the sand. That will be less disturbance than the daily tidal action causes.”

Board Vice President Muril Clift calls the report “appropriate for the scope of the study project,” which “will cause minimal disruption of the beach area, last only a short time and the beach will be returned to original conditions at the completion of the sample tests.”

But some community members aren’t convinced.

Elizabeth Bettenhausen called the neg dec “sort of preliminary and not very complete … rather incoherent,” and likened it to a 500-piece puzzle with 50 pieces missing.

That’s also how she feels about the coastal determination study done by the Army Corps of Engineers, on which the district’s initial study is based.

Among the many issues addressed in the study is one issue raised in public testimony. Speakers expressed concern that residual mercury that washed down from mercury mines high up in the watershed in the 19th and early 20th centuries may have accumulated in beach sands and could be disturbed by the tests and installation of intake devices.

The study says the first 10 feet of the drilling would be tested for hazardous materials, and adds that the “likelihood of … releasing substantial amounts of soluble mercury via disturbed sediments is low.”

What’s next? Clift said, “If the tests prove the wells could produce sufficient water flow for a desalination project, then a complete and extensive environmental document will have to be prepared before any desalination project could go forward.”

If not, “then we will have to look elsewhere for potential intake wells.”

The study is not on the agenda at the district board’s next meeting at 12:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 1, but a decision is expected at the meeting at 12:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28, at the Veterans Memorial Building, 1000 Main St.