Letters to the Editor

Viewpoint: Safeguarding ‘natural capital’

Cambria enjoys a spectacular natural coastal environment that attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world to our region, a bounty that adds important tourist dollars to the economy. In addition to the eco-wonders of Moonstone Beach and the Santa Rosa Creek Natural Preserve, Cambria also acts as a gateway to Big Sur and Hearst Castle and offers visitors and residents alike many locally-owned restaurants, art galleries and high-quality retail stores that specialize in unique items.

The final tally on votes in our recent election for new leadership at the Cambria Community Services District is not complete. What is clear, however, is that the No.1 priority of every Cambria Community Services District director should be retaining, protecting and promoting Cambria’s unique village and the natural environment.

Safeguarding our “natural capital” is good not only for the environment, but also good for ratepayers and businesses. Yet regard for the environment has become a bone of contention in the discussion around a possible desalination plant in Cambria.

Environmental advocates and those who oppose desalination and unrestrained growth have been mischaracterized as belonging to a small minority of “naysayers,” “obstructionists” or “no-growthers.” Such language has unfairly divided this beautiful community.

Let us look at the facts of the choices made by voters in recent elections. The 2008 election was described by many as a mandate for fiscal responsibility, not a mandate for a water supply. Indeed, in recent elections, Cambrians have defeated two water and sewer rate increases and elected two candidates pledged to increasing fiscal responsibility and transparency.

The 2010 election for Cambria’s Community Services District was recently described as a pro-desalination vote. But actually, no one knows where the community stands on the issue of desalination because there has never been an adequate presentation, let alone vote, on the matter.

The only source of information about how Cambrians feel about desalination is based on a controversial advisory survey conducted in 2000 with response forms sent to approximately 7,900 recipients, many of who did not live in town and who were not utility ratepayers. Currently, only 4,261 people are eligible to vote in Cambria.

Of those, nearly 50 percent of Cambrians who voted in 2010 supported candidates who advocate more environmental protection and fiscally responsible water solutions including more water storage, conservation, recycling, water catchment systems and reducing wasteful summertime water use. How is that a pro-desalination vote?

Further discussion of desalination is needed. Although various water supply alternatives remain viable as described in Cambria’s Water Plan, no other water alternatives have been deemed as acceptable by the Community Services District in the past decade.

Additional water storage tanks, water exchange rights to Whale Rock reservoir and off stream storage ponds would cost much less than a $25 million desalination plant and could be pursued with less opposition in the community. A few small projects would serve the town’s dry season water storage needs in the summertime without promoting unbridled growth.

Other unaddressed issues include the environmental consequences of salt water brine discharge into a sensitive marine environment and the potential damage associated with the Army Corps of Engineers drilling on our precious Moonstone Beach and the Santa Rosa Creek Natural Preserve. For more detailed drilling and desalination discussions, please see www.cambriawaterwatch.org.

All these issues need to be considered, and protections must be firmly in place before further development occurs on our coast. Being careful does not make one a naysayer, it makes one a steward of the land. By promoting protection of the natural environment, understanding our watersheds and being water-wise in the urban areas, we can all be on our way to a sustainable water future. A future that is good not only for Cambria, but for the entire Central Coast.

Mary Webb has been a Cambria resident since 1986 and is a contributor to CambriaWaterWatch.org.