The Cambrian

Cambria residents use the least water in California

A car whizzes past the Cambria sign on Highway 1 at the south end of town.
A car whizzes past the Cambria sign on Highway 1 at the south end of town.

Residential water users in Cambria are the most frugal in California.

The State Water Resources Control Board’s data for September shows that Cambria Community Services District customers had the lowest per-capita residential water use among 411 urban water providers — 40 gallons per person per day.

The average for all the reporting water providers was 152.6 gallons per capita per day.

Cambria also earned a high rank with its year-over-year reductions in water consumption.

The state data compared water production between June 2013 and February 2014 and between June 2014 and February 2015. Cambria’s cutback between those two periods was 43 percent, placing it third behind Bella Vista (48 percent) and Montecito (47 percent).

The governor’s April 1 executive order mandated a statewide 25 percent reduction in water consumption. If the water board finalizes statewide requirements, residents in the North Coast community likely won’t have to cut back their water use further, according to George Kostyrko, director of the water board’s public affairs office, because Cambria ratepayers “have been conserving so phenomenally.”

Cambrians aren’t allowed to use potable water for outdoor irrigation and other purposes, and each resident is allocated 50 gallons of water per day, with punitive rates added to the bills of those who exceed their allocations.

Super savers

Cambria resident Bill Seavey has turned conserving water into a science.

He has installed a rainwater harvesting system on both his home and vacation rental to catch and store more than 2,000 gallons of rain to water his landscaping. Typical of many Cambrians, he takes a bucket into the shower with him to collect water that can be used to flush toilets.

Seavey even uses bottled water when he brushes his teeth to save a couple of extra gallons. All of these efforts have paid off. He keeps water use to less than the 50-per-person daily allocation.

He’s become such an expert on water conservation that he has given three workshops in recent years to teach Cambrians how to minimize their water use. He estimates that some 100 people have attended the workshops.

“We are the super water-conservers here in Cambria,” Seavey said. “Lots of people want to help, but I think many people in the state do not understand the severity of our water crisis.”

Other SLO County communities

Many communities in San Luis Obispo County haven’t come close to saving as much water as Seavey and other Cambria residents, who averaged 

40 gallons of water per person per day last September, according to state data.

By comparison, water use that month ranged from 52 gallons per person per day in Grover Beach to 111.6 gallons per person a day in Pismo Beach and 154.6 gallons per person per day in Atascadero.

As California suffers through a fourth year of exceptional drought, the state is requiring residents cut back on water use. State water regulators earlier this week proposed mandatory cuts of 10 percent to 35 percent compared to 2013.

Communities that have already achieved their proposed cut wouldn’t have to cut further. Cambria and Grover Beach have already cut water use well over their proposed 10 percent reduction.

The proposed cuts still have to be approved by the state water board, likely on May 5.

Cambrians to keep conserving

Cambrians still need to continue conservation efforts because the town has been on the front lines of California’s drought crisis. The services district estimated the community could have run out of water this past fall. What kept that from happening, officials said, is the remarkable job residents did in cutting back their use of water. 

The Cambria Community Services District also banned all outdoor irrigation and most other outdoor uses.

An emergency water-reclamation plant that processes groundwater, brackish water and treated effluent went on line in January on a trial basis, but area aquifers and wells are nearly full with seasonal rainfall. 

Cambrians are acutely aware that strict conservation remains their new normal. “Everybody has to keep helping out,” said Kostyrko, director of the state water board’s Office of Public Affairs. “Basically, Cambrians have been real leaders about how to make good judicious choices about using precious water. Other communities can learn from your examples.”

He added: “Other communities need to stop watering outdoors.”

San Simeon

Small water agencies with fewer than 3,000 water connections, such as water suppliers in San Simeon, Los Osos and other unincorporated communities in the county, will have to work toward a 25 percent reduction in water use, according to Brown’s recent order.

Smaller districts are asked to meet same prohibitions,” Kostyrko said, “they just don’t have to report to us.” Among the prohibitions are not wasting water, not washing down streets, sidewalks and hard surfaces, not letting sprinklers run, not letting water run down the street and the newest prohibition, “no watering 48 hours after a rain event.”

However, San Simeonites did such a good job at conserving water that their community services district actually had to go into reverse for about three months, asking its customers to use some potable water outdoors. Residents and businesses had been hauling recycled water from the wastewater treatment plant to use on plantings and for other outdoor uses.

When water levels drop in district wells, what comes out of the tap can taste unpleasantly salty. According to Charles Grace, general manager of the San Simeon Community Services District, that was definitely the case in mid-December, when chloride levels were in the range of 3,200 milligrams per liter (mgl) in the primary well, and in the 

200-to-250 mgl range in the emergency-supply well. Normal is 32 mgl or fewer. 

Then it rained. The fresh water rapidly filled the wells and diluted the chloride levels. But it didn’t last.

Soon, the creek water was flowing past San Simeon’s aquifer and rain-filled wells to the sea, where the flow couldn’t help dilute the chloride-laced well water. 

On Jan. 14, the San Simeon Community Services District Board of Directors decided that the easiest way to get the chlorides down was to let customers use up the water in the wells so the less-salty, fresh-water underflow could refill them. 

It worked, dropping chloride levels in the main well down to the 200-to-250 mgl range, Grace said April 14.

As it turned out, however, lifting San Simeon’s water-use restrictions was a very temporary action. With the continuing drought and probability of little or no additional rain, district directors April 8 put the community back into a Stage 3 water emergency, with the most stringent water-conservation requirements. 

Grace estimated that San Simeon residents use about 37 gallons per residence per day, based on 1.4 people per residence.

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