Cambrian: Opinion

Post-Katrina portable desal model would be good fit in Cambria

Cambria’s problem is not the wastewater system. It has more than enough capacity to handle the current needs of our community. Its treated effluent provides a safe, reliable barrier to protect against possible seawater (salt) intrusion into the San Simeon aquifer. Don’t mess with something that works well!

The problem is our existing water supply system. Capacity is inadequate to ensure the community does not run out of potable water during our current extended drought emergency.

Cambria’s emergency supplemental water supply could have been accomplished in a manner similar to what was done by the Federal Emergency Management Administration.

FEMA almost immediately provided potable water supplies for New Orleans after the devastating Katrina hurricane, manufactured “off-the-shelf” mobile, self-contained desalination units with above-ground seawater intakes and brine discharges.

Such a desalination system could have been rapidly supplied, installed and operated by companies such as GE Water, GeoPure Water Technologies and RODI systems to provide adequate potable water during our emergency. These standardized systems have proven track records of reliable performance, do not require daily on-site personnel, can be remotely controlled and cost far less than the one-of- a-kind, “built from scratch” design by CDM Engineering, with which the Cambria Community Services District has a contract.

“Off-the-shelf” desalination units are particularly well suited for the small Cambria 300gpm (1.3AF/Day) supply requirement compared with major engineering designed desalination systems such as the Carlsbad, Calif. project with more than 100 times larger output (153AF/Day).

It is important to note that very low velocity seawater intake designs such as demonstrated at Redondo Beach and other locations show little to no impact on sea life. The 2012 California Water Resources Control Board study on brine discharge into coastal waters found minimal environmental effects to the marine habitat.

KISS (Keep it Simple Stupid) is an adage used by engineers in problem-solving, often resulting in the most effective, lowest risk and lowest cost solutions.

It does not appear that CDM considered this approach! Why did CDM select the current “built-from-scratch” brackish water-based system design, particularly after it found the water source to have a significant amount of treated wastewater? This finding resulted in added system complexity, cost, extended development time as well as citizen concerns about the wastewater content being recycled for human consumption (toilet-to-tap).

CDM stated a five-person staff would be needed for 24/7 desalination system operation.


The CDM design can only be defined as drought resistant. The emergency water system is dependent on an adequate supply of treated wastewater. Worst-case, an extended drought condition such as experienced by Australia for 10 years could result in less waste water for our emergency water system! We all hope such an event will not happen, but has CDM considered this?

The only drought independent system is seawater desalinization. It uses the Pacific Ocean (an infinite supply source) and if needed could potentially supply all of Cambria’s potable water.

During the July 14 CCSD meeting, there was mention of 17 other California communities that were in similar levels of emergencies. Has the CCSD contacted any of them regarding their plans to mitigate the impact of an extended drought and how their ideas might aid us in our planning?

Has CDM given the CCSD a detailed project task milestone chart that can be reviewed weekly to ensure the November completion remains valid?

Has CDM given CCSD a breakdown of costs associated with all the engineering design tasks as well as purchased hardware?

Has the CCSD solicited political and financial assistance from county, state and federal organizations to overcome the most significant project hurdle of all, the many required regulatory agency approvals?

Will the CCSD continue to pursue the $10.3 million federal appropriation with Congresswoman Lois Capps?

The Cambria Emergency Water Supply Project is probably the most significant undertaking this community has ever done and with the greatest impact for our current situation and our future quality of life.

This undertaking is and will continue to be difficult and stressful to all Cambrians as well as the CCSD Board and staff. The more project transparency (questions and answers), the more understanding and support of the community may occur.

Let us all hope for the best and cope with the rest!