Cambrian: Opinion

How can we justify Cambria’s Sustainable Water Facility?

The pond at the Cambria Community Services District’s Sustainable Water Facility, seen in May.
The pond at the Cambria Community Services District’s Sustainable Water Facility, seen in May.

Cambria’s brackish/treated wastewater reclamation system, originally called the Emergency Water Supply project, was projected to cost $8 million, with the potential of a $4 million cost reduction grant from the state. The system now called the Sustainable Water Facility has become an ever-increasing financial burden on our small community.

The business cost principle used in developing capital assets would include all necessary and reasonable costs required to place the asset into full operational use. The SWF would exceed the presently stated $13 million cost if all appropriate elements were included — contracted design and construction (sole sourced to CDM Smith), permitting fees, consulting and lobbying services, in-house support (general manager, engineer and staff), outside support services, system modifications/change orders and oversight penalties.

The magnitude of the SWF project cost is very troubling. System operating cost with its required modifications could make it untenable in all but drought emergency use. The modified system would remove its discharged waste (brine) by truck transport to an offsite disposal facility. Benchmark cost per acre-foot for seawater reverse osmosis plants such as at Santa Barbara and Carlsbad/ San Diego using direct seawater brine disposal are between $1,500 and $2,000. Typical RO system yields can vary from 50 percent (one stage) to 85 percent (three stages).

The CCSD estimated 20,000 gallons per day of brine waste from the SWF operating at its designed 250 acre-feet per year. This would result in an extremely high 91 percent yield of potable water. With this questionably high yield, brine disposal would cost $4,000 per day using four to five trucks, which would equate to $6,ooo per acre-foot. Water rates could reach $20 per unit by adding the revised SWF operating costs to our recently doubled rates.

Cambria ratepayers need to know the full capital cost of the SWF, the revised system test performance and the resulting water unit rates.

The CCSD needs to explain the intended use of the SWF regarding new water meter sales, intent to serve letters, build wait list, etc.

The EWS as originally proposed is an acceptable water source in a drought emergency. The justification of the SWF as a supplemental water source is highly questionable.

Allan MacKinnon is a former member of the Cambria Community Services District board.