Cambrian: Opinion

Viewpoint on Cambria water plant assumes facts not in evidence

Cambria Community Services District Sustainable Water Facility.
Cambria Community Services District Sustainable Water Facility.

When I read Allan MacKinnon’s Viewpoint article on the Cambria Community Services District (CCSD) Sustainable Water Facility (SWF), a common objection used in America’s law courts came to mind — “Mr. McKinnon, you have assumed facts not in evidence.” The community would have been better served had Mr. McKinnon taken the time to do some homework before submitting his missive for publication.

Allan MacKinnon assumed that the SWF will be operating at its full design capacity of “250 acre-feet per year.” That is simply not true, unless Cambria experiences a severe drought. As stated in the 2015 Urban Water Management Plan (“UWMP”) adopted by the CCSD Board of Directors, “It is assumed that in normal years, the SWF would be operated primarily during the late dry season to most efficiently control the hydraulic gradient between the percolation ponds and the up-gradient potable wells. This assumption used 8 hours per day operation for 12 weeks, or approximately 35 acre-feet annual production (by the SWF) . . ..” (Emphasis added.) (UWMP, p. 40.) Nobody has argued that operating the SWF is inexpensive; however, Allan MacKinnon’s assumptions about operation of the SWF and the dire financial inferences he draws from those assumptions are inconsistent with the facts.

The UWMP delves deeply into the status of Cambria’s groundwater supply. The UWMP at Table 4-2 summarizes projected potable water demand for all uses in the community, including the addition of 666 residential connections as provided for in the CCSD adopted growth cap and Buildout Reduction Program (for a total of 4,650 existing and new residential water connections). In 2040, at buildout, the total demand for potable water by all uses is projected to be 789 acre-feet per year. As the UWMP explains, this is a conservative projection. This amount is well within the existing and anticipated groundwater diversion limits set by the Department of Water Resources.

At Table 6-9, the UWMP sets forth the sources of potable water that are, and will be, available to meet existing and future demands. The table includes the safe groundwater yield and reasonably available volume of groundwater from the two watersheds (San Simeon Creek and Santa Rosa Creek) that supply Cambria’s groundwater. The combined safe yield is 1,017 acre feet per year. The reasonably available volume of groundwater, based on historical data, is 789 acre feet per year, and does not count the substantial amount of recycled water that is available for landscape irrigation, etc. Thus, without the SWF, the CCSD can produce a sufficient amount of groundwater during years of normal rainfall (approximately 19 inches per year) to supply all existing and anticipated future uses, including 666 new residential connections. Except to help maintain the gradient to prevent seawater intrusion into the aquifers that supply Cambria’s potable water, the SWF won’t be operational unless there is a severe drought.

So, why do we need the SWF? First, the experience of the last prolonged drought demonstrated the need for a reliable supplemental water supply. It is simply not prudent for us to stick our heads in the sand and pretend that severe droughts won’t periodically occur. Whether add 666 new water connections or not, Cambria needs drought protection. Second, the SWF provides Cambria with a margin of safety that will add materially to the CCSD Fire Department’s ability to fight fires. The existing SFW brine pond will be repurposed to become a reservoir that can supply approximately 20 acre-feet of water when needed in a fire emergency. During the late dry season when the SWF will be operational, the extra water infused into the CCSD water system will help keep Cambria’s water tanks at a higher level, making additional water available to fight fires during the high fire risk time of the year.

Let’s continue the dialogue about the SWF. All I ask is that we stick to the facts.

Greg Sanders is vice president of the Cambria Community Services District Board of Directors.