The Cambrian

San Simeon cuts ribbon on water plant

Jerry Copeland shows off the San Simeon reverse-osmosis unit.
Jerry Copeland shows off the San Simeon reverse-osmosis unit.

A group of San Luis Obispo County Public Works officials, San Simeon Community Services District representatives and residents of the tiny town gathered immediately east of the district offices on Pico Avenue on May 19 to celebrate completion of a water-treatment plant designed to filter out undesirable components, such as chlorides.

After everybody posed for some celebratory photos (including a sign that read “We got it done!”), board President Dan Williams grinned widely as Vice President Alan Fields used oversized ceremonial scissors to cut the fancy blue dotted-Swiss ribbon.

Fields then cut the ribbon into souvenir pieces as nearly two dozen attendees poured into the wellhead-treatment facility to hear district Superintendent Jerry Copeland explain how the reverse-osmosis process works.

District General Manager Charlie Grace of Grace Environmental said in a phone interview Tuesday, May 31, that even though all the bills haven’t come in yet, he fully expects the project’s approximate $926,000 cost to be under budget (the engineer’s estimate was about $990,000).

The project was mostly paid by grants: $500,000 from U.S. Department of Agriculture and $326,431 in a state drought grant. The district will pay the balance.


Little San Simeon has battled high chloride levels off and on for years, usually during dry spells and high-wave storm periods when saltwater and wind-blown sea spray splashes into the area.

The wellhead-treatment plant isn’t operating now, because chloride levels “are holding at 180 milligrams per liter (mg/l),” Grace said. He said the state’s drinking water department allows the district to operate the plant when chloride levels rise to 250 mg/l or above.

Grace estimated that, if the plant had been in place then, the district would have operated it from September 2015 to April 2016. Levels in mid-December were in the range of 3,200 mg/l.

The plant’s capacity is 325 gallons per minute. The plant’s output is 82 percent of the water taken in; the remaining 18 percent, considered “reject water,” is discarded as brine.

Grace said residents and business owners will be glad to not be “plagued by the seasonal bad-tasting water.”

When levels were high, “we’d get continuous complaints,” he said. “Restaurants would have to stop serving water, not to save water but because the quality would deteriorate rapidly.”

The water quality would be so bad that the liquid would “curdle the creamer in the coffee,” and cooks preparing peas or beans would find that their cooked legumes were as hard as rocks.

Grace said the treated water also “will be easier on pipes, easier on appliances and easier on people who are salt intolerant.”

At the ribbon cutting, Courtney Howard, manager of the county’s Water Resources Division, said she was glad she made the trip to attend the ceremony.

“It’s neat to see the equipment in place,” she said “This picture will stay in my mind to remind me to keep my eye on the prize” for future projects.

Kathe Tanner: 805-927-4140