The Cambrian

Water conservation alternatives explored

More than five dozen North Coast residents turned out March 16 to hear about ways to conserve water for and provide water to the community, without firing up a desalination plant.

Four panelists covered topics as diverse as the water supply, water quality and conservation, gray-water storage systems and storage ponds that range from so-called “cow ponds” to reservoirs. The standing-room-only crowd gathered at the Rabobank conference room.

The panelists at the event sponsored by Cambria Residents of Heart and Mind included:

Among those in the audience were services-district directors Allan MacKinnon and Peter Chaldecott, and district engineer Bob Gresens.

Many of the ideas were presented at the forum as alternatives to the district’s plan to combat its water- shortage emergency during seasonal shortages and periodic droughts by desalinating seawater. The district declared the emergency official in November 2001, and has issued few water connections since then.

At the forum, conservation was the topic of the day. Some of ideas are already advocated by the services district.

Blanck and Brownell, both Cambria residents, recommended stockpiling water during rainy seasons in small “cow ponds” and moderately sized reservoirs that could recharge all or part of the watershed, benefiting wildlife, the habitat, agriculture and urban users, they said.

Blanck said desalination could be used to “polish” wastewater for reuse, but noted that high operation costs have discouraged desalination use, even by communities that have the systems in place, such as Marina and Catalina Island.

Everts noted that Catalina had gone to using “salt water for fire trucks and to flush toilets,” because desalination operations are costly.

He recommended using devices as unusual as a hand-washing sink that drains directly into toilet tanks. He also touted water storage similar to the irrigation system at the new Cambria Grammar School.

Bandov explained how gray-water cisterns store water from washing machines, showers, tubs and bath-sinks in individual homes. That water can be used on

certain kinds of landscaping and even fruit trees. Such systems must meet state and local regulations.

A simple system that transports washing-machine water to plants requires the least amount of plumbing and equipment, he said.

Brownell advocated low-tech solutions, such as buying upstream properties and installing a series of small reservoirs or catch basins to save water. He noted that it only takes a half-inch of rain to fill his 1,500 gallon cistern.

Panelists offered a few rough cost estimates for some of the water-saving devices they recommended, but no specifics for the larger plans, a lack noted by MacKinnon after the forum ended.