The Cambrian

Cambria's water plant test has three more weeks to run

The plan is for Cambria’s emergency water supply project to continue operating as it is until approximately April 10, when a three-month “maiden voyage” is to end, Jerry Gruber, general manager of the Cambria Community Services District, said in a phone interview Tuesday, March 17. 

The plant would then be shut down, he said, and the contractor would prepare a report on “how the operations went and anything we need to improve.”

A judge on March 13 denied a legal challenge that sought to turn off the approximately $10 million plant until studies about potential environmental impacts could be examined and put into a report.

The water-reclamation plant on the district’s San Simeon Creek Road property filters and treats a brackish blend of fresh-, salt and wastewater. The highly treated water is injected back into the ground to recharge the basin and eventually replenish district source wells. The plant is designed to operate during droughts and extremely dry seasons, when more water is being drawn out of the aquifer than is flowing into it from underflow in the creek watershed.

There was somewhat of a legal tennis match back and forth for a few days involving Judge Ginger Garrett, the petitioner (the Environmental Law Clinic at Stanford Law School, on behalf of LandWatch San Luis Obispo County) and the respondents (the services district, the county’s planning and building department and the governor’s office of planning and research).

Garrett issued her initial ruling March 10, denying Stanford’s request for a preliminary injunction to prevent the plant from operating. Garrett then decided to allow Stanford and LandWatch to present further evidence at a hearing. During the process, briefs and responses flurried back and forth.

On March 13, however, the judge opted to let the plant continue to operate during its three-month test period, which is allowed under an emergency permit issued by the county and a series of “orders” issued by the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board.

Attorney Deborah Sivas filed the Stanford lawsuit Oct. 14, not seeking to make the district tear down the plant, but to stop the project from operating until CCSD could prove that operations wouldn’t harm the environment, to meet California’s environmental-quality regulations. The district has to meet those requirements to obtain a permanent permit to run the plant.

Sivas said in a March 17 phone interview that the next step is a case management conference tentatively set for April 27, and an expected trial date of June 8. However, she said “courts like to set dates as goals,” and the trial might be continued to a later date.

The district Board of Directors is scheduled to hold a scoping meeting on Thursday, March 26, dealing with issues to be included in the environmental impact report (EIR). 

Gruber said Tuesday, March 17, that Rita Garcia from RBF Consulting will give a PowerPoint presentation on the plant’s EIR process, and then the meeting “will be opened up for public comment. The purpose is to give the community the opportunity to make sure their requests are heard, to make sure the items they want are included in the EIR. It’s appropriate and necessary for the community to weigh in.”

That meeting also is to include a possible state-of-emergency declaration about the extreme fire risk in Cambria. 

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