CCSD’s long-term water supply planning calls for continued aggressive water conservation, recycled water for non-potable uses, and seawater desalination as a long-term means to provide drought protection while augmenting the area's local groundwater supply. Potable water from a future long-term water supply project would protect residents, businesses, and visitors to Cambria from droughts and other emergencies, while also helping to preserve the area’s sensitive coastal stream habitats. The Army Corps of Engineers is currently completing an Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement, which will analyze a reasonable range of water supply project alternatives, including seawater desalination. This process will include the development of a preferred alternative, which may not necessarily be limited to seawater desalination. The public scoping session for the EIR/EIS ocurred on March 15, 2012.
Cambria relies solely upon two narrow and thin groundwater aquifers for its potable water supply. The CCSD's main supply aquifer is drawn down during the summer dry season and peak tourist period before being recharged during the winter rainy season. Due to drought periods or the late arrival of seasonal rainfall during average years, the CCSD's aquifers can become perilously low during late summer and early fall. If uncharged during the subsequent late fall or winter rainy season, low aquifer levels can lead to saltwater intrusion of the main supply aquifer and a host of other operational problems. Depending upon well levels and other factors, the CCSD has invoked drought surcharges and other measures to curb demands. The chronic pattern of dry season shortages also resulted in the CCSD declaring a Water Code 350 emergency in November 2001, which is still in effect.
The CCSD's service area is isolated from inland areas by the Santa Lucia mountain range to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. There are no nearby aqueducts from which to import freshwater into the area, which was one of the factors resulting in the CCSD's earlier Water Master Plan's Program-level EIR (WMP PEIR) to recommend seawater desalination. Further discussion on various long-term supply alternatives can be found in the CCSD’s June 2004 Water Master Plan entitled Final Report: Assessment of Long-Term Water Supply Alternatives. The current EIR/EIS effort by the Army Corps is in the process of further defining initial concepts, several of which were described within the earlier 2004 WMP report.
A future long-term water supply project should further diversify the CCSD’s water supplies, which will greatly improve overall water supply reliability. Besides addressing droughts and seasonal dry periods, such an additional water source will allow the CCSD to maintain operations during major fire emergencies, or should both of its existing well fields ever be incapacitated at the same time due to a chemical spill, earthquake, wild land fire, or other disaster. The additional supply also allows CCSD staff greater flexibility in taking critical system facilities (e.g., well pumps, electrical panels, generators, treatment processes) out of service for maintenance and repairs.
Growth inducement has been a key concern over any water supply project within Cambria. The CCSD's WMP PEIR included the adoption of a build-out reduction program mitigation measure, which set the maximum number of existing and future residential connections to the CCSD at 4,650. This value included approximately future 666 wait list positions, which were estimated to occur over a 22 year period. Each supply alternative may have its own unique project-specific impacts, which will need to be analyzed as part of the EIR/EIS. For example, key environmental concerns associated with seawater desalination include potential impacts to marine life at the intake due to impingement and entrainment, returning seawater at salinity concentrations greater than naturally occurring background levels, greenhouse gas emissions from the power used to operate the facility, and secondary impacts caused by growth within the community.
These concerns and others will need to be further analyzed to determine ways to avoid or otherwise mitigate their potential impacts within a project-level Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement (EIR/EIS). To address greenhouse gas emission concerns, the CCSD is planning to use renewable power as well as including the most energy-efficient treatment technology available within its future facilities.
Costs and Funding
Desalination costs have been previously estimated in terms of 2008 dollars at $14 million without including the cost of a renewable power system (solar/photovoltaic), and at $17.2 million when including the cost of a renewable power system. These costs are for a system sized to produce 602 acre-feet of potable water over a typical dry season in Cambria, or an average span of 184 days per year. Prior cost estimates will need to be developed as part of any subsequent screening of alternatives identified as part of the current Army Corps EIR/EIS efforts.
Cambria was fortunate to have received a $10.3 million Federal Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) authorization for its desalination project. The WRDA program is administered by the Army Corps, and relies upon subsequent fiscal year appropriations for actual funding. Typical WRDA project funding is based on a 75% Federal and 25% local cost sharing formula. However, because the WRDA authorization was limited to seawater desalination, a future WRDA bill change and associated amendment to the agreement with the Army Corps would be needed to pursue completion of other water supply alternatives.
In April 2009, the Army Corps also received $2.5 million in funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to develop Cambria’s desalination project. This funding is part of President Barack Obama's "stimulus package" program passed in February 2009.
Besides outside funding, construction of the CCSD’s desalination facility construction will rely on future connection fees from its existing water wait list customers. In addition, existing CCSD wait list customers have also proposed a Mello-Roos tax assessment on their properties to help cover the initial project costs.