The Cambrian

Work begins near Cambria on alternate water supply

Drillers are working near San Simeon Creek north of Cambria this week, installing an injection well that’s part of the drought-stricken town’s emergency water supply project.

The project will pump brackish water from an existing well east of the State Parks campground on the north side of San Simeon Creek to a new water treatment facility that would use reverse osmosis to desalinate the water. Part of the water would be injected near the creek’s lagoon to lessen environmental impacts of the pumping, but most would be injected to the east, in this new well, near the district’s existing well field, which provides most of the town’s water.

Briny discharge would be pumped to a nearby evaporation pond to dry out and be trucked away.

Work on the project began May 20 after the county issued an emergency coastal development permit on May 15. County Planning issued the fast-tracked emergency permit so the Cambria Community Services District could get underway at the same time district officials continue to pursue regular permits and environmental clearances.

The county’s permit includes 23 conditions, among them the requirement that by June 13, the district apply for a regular Coastal Development Permit.

The county permit states that the project would provide up to 250 acre-feet of water to serve only existing water connections in the district’s service area. The permit remains valid until the district’s Stage 3 water-shortage emergency has ended or the project has received a regular coastal development permit.

The project is intended to ensure the district has a water supply if the drought persists into the fall. Cambria’s only water supply comes from wells on San Simeon and Santa Rosa creeks. Those levels plummeted last year as the district moved into a third year of historically low rain levels.

District directors declared a Stage 3 water supply emergency in January, the most severe level. It requires residents to use no more than 50 gallons of water a day or pay stiff surcharges on their bills.

Under the restrictions, Cambrians’ water use has plummeted. In March and April, the district pumped about 70 acre-feet of water, down from 114 last year, a reduction of 38 percent. “The community has helped a lot with its conservation efforts,” said district engineer Bob Gresens. “If we use less, it lasts longer.”

He projected wells could run dry anywhere from mid-October to mid-December if rain doesn’t fall.

By that time, the district hopes to have its emergency water supply project online.

To keep the entire project on land the district currently owns, the water would be injected downstream from the existing district well field. It’s expected about 60 percent of the water injected would spread far enough upstream, in the underflow of the creek, to be recovered from the existing wells.

Since an estimated 5 percent of the briny water pumped out of the ground to supply the water treatment plant is water that went through the district’s sewage treatment plant and was later percolated into the ground nearby, the treated water can’t be used directly after it comes out of the water treatment plant.

State health rules require the water to spend at least 60 days underground before it’s pumped out again from the production wells, so one of the wells the district is installing is between the injection and production wells, where it can monitor the flow. Tests to determine the travel time will use a bromide ion to mark the water.

Total cost of the project is expected to be nearly $7 million. The district is working on preparing a rate increase notice to generate $8.1 million after allowing for a 20 percent contingency cushion.

Preliminary figures show the rate increase would cost a typical ratepayer about $15 per month to cover the cost of the emergency water supply project. That assumes the district does not obtain any emergency grants to help pay for the project.