The Cambrian

How Cambria businesses balance water conservation with tourism

Tourists take in the sights of Cambria’s West Village on Tuesday, Aug. 12.
Tourists take in the sights of Cambria’s West Village on Tuesday, Aug. 12.

In light of the water crisis, Cambria businesses are working hard to balance conservation with the area’s major source of revenue: tourism.

At the start of the year, Cambria businesses were asked to reduce water use by 20 percent — a feat that seemed near impossible to many businesses at the time, said Mary Ann Carson, executive director for the Cambria Chamber of Commerce.

Through a combination of water conservation efforts that included adding new water-saving appliances and switching out dishware for biodegradable counterparts, local businesses managed to go beyond that 20 percent, however, Carson said.

“At first, the businesses thought it would be hard to do,” she said. “But since then, they’ve stepped up and saved (on average) 46 percent over this time. We’ve found that you actually need a lot less water than you think you do.”

Though the business community has reduced water use by more than what was required, some locals still speculate that the city should not be attempting to attract more tourists to the area as long as a water crisis is ongoing, Carson said.

“A lot of people wonder why we need tourists in town during this water crisis,” Carson said. “But our entire economy is built on tourism. You can’t have that ripped away. That’s why our businesses have to be really careful.”

According to Carson, the town sees more than 1 million tourists annually, including many visitors to Hearst Castle.

Most of those tourists aren’t aware of the water crisis before they arrive in Cambria, Carson said, so it is often up to local businesses that cater to tourists, especially hotels, to explain the situation and encourage visitors to help in conservation efforts.

“It’s all about communication,” said Charlie Yates, Pelican Inn and Suites general manager and area manager for Pacifica Hotels, which owns the Pelican Inn and three other Cambrian hotels. “Educating our guests is an important factor, and asking for their help makes this a team effort, between them and us.”

To help educate guests, many area hotels have promotional materials in each room to inform guests about the water crisis and what the hotels are doing to conserve water, Yates said.

That includes getting rid of porcelain mugs and glass cups in each room and replacing them with compostable, cornstarch cups, Yates said. Compostable dishes have also replaced traditional plates and bowls in the hotels’ restaurants.

Other conservation efforts include calibrating washing machines to use only cold water and fewer rinse cycles, reducing the amount of water that comes out of the faucet when turned on, adding new water-conserving shower heads and asking guests to refrain from using Jacuzzi tubs in their rooms.

“People have actually been responding well to the requests in general,” Yates said. “We get notes from guests at checkout that say they didn’t use the Jacuzzi with smiley faces. Of course there are some that are complaining — ‘Where’s my porcelain cup?’ and all that — but we are doing our best to communicate with them.”

Conservation comes at a cost, though, Yates said.

“I would say with all of the changes, hard costs in each room are up 20 percent,” Yates said. “It’s funny — we’re spending money saving water.” Yates declined to disclose how much money the hotel has invested in conservation efforts.

Although hotels have been at the forefront of conservation efforts in the area, restaurants have also had to find new ways to make business more water-efficient, Carson said.

“Conservation is hard; it’s especially hard for those businesses (that deal with tourists),” she said. “Restaurants have probably been suffering the most.”

At Madeline’s Restaurant on Main Street, owner and chef David Stoothoff has been using the leftover water from customers’ drinking glasses to water his herb garden. And, like many other restaurants in the area, he now provides water to guests only upon request and limits bathroom use to customers only.

Stoothoff said the new restrictions have angered some customers who aren’t aware of the area’s water troubles.

“It’s a hard balancing act,” Stoothoff said. “You get people coming in who really don’t get it — the water crisis. Sometimes it’s fellow Californians who come in and think, ‘Well how bad can it be here?’ and they don’t get that it’s the worst here, because we don’t have any water storage.”

Besides the new rules, Stoothoff also asked the Cambria Community Services District to perform an audit on his restaurant, so that he could figure out where to cut back on water usage.

The majority of his water use was in the bathroom, he said, but after limiting the restroom to only customers and reducing toilet flow from 2.5 gallons to 1.2 gallons, he has made up for a lot of lost water and reduced the restaurant’s overall use by just above 20 percent.

In total, Stoothoff said he has spent about $700 to cut back on the restaurant’s water use, though his landlord contributed half to the efforts, he added.

“Financially, it’s not hurt us yet,” Stoothoff said. “We’ll see what happens if the wells do run dry, though.”