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Water Service FAQs

If you're thinking of purchasing property in Cambria, please read the following carefully.

What's the water situation in Cambria?

  • Cambria’s entire water supply comes from municipal wells located on two creeks, San Simeon Creek to the North of town, and Santa Rosa Creek, which runs through Cambria.
  • The District owns three wells on San Simeon Creek from which the majority of the town’s water is drawn. It also owns three wells in the Santa Rosa Creek basin: two potable and one non-potable.
  • Since rainfall in Cambria is strictly seasonal, and no rain generally falls from May through October, water storage is a critical issue. Even if Cambria experiences a wet winter this does not change the amount of water available in the aquifer. All excess water that the aquifer is unable to hold is released to the ocean. Capture of this water is complicated and would invlove obtaining additional permits from the State and  building infrastructure for treatment.
  • The District is permitted by the State to withdraw a specific amount of water from the creeks. This is contingent upon maintaining wetland habitats in the creek for certain endangered species.
  • The District declared a Water Code Section 350 emergency shortage in 2001 and put a moratorium on new connections to the water system. To date, the Water Code Section 350 declaration has not been lifted.

What is the status of the CCSD's Water Supply Plan?

  • In 2008, the CCSD completed a Water Master Plan (WMP) to determine Cambria’s water needs for the future. It includes the eventual “buildout” size of the community and the corresponding water, sewer, and fire protection needs for that size community. Desalination was determined to be the best long-term, stable water source for Cambria.
  • During 2013, the Army Corps of Engineers, through a project cooperative agreement with the CCSD, commissioned CDM Smith to complete a Cambria Water Supply Alternatives Technical Memorandum. Following a series of public workshops, an indirect potable reuse project using brackish water was found to be the most technically superior project. 
  • This report was followed by a severe drought and consequential emergency water shortage declaration. This prompted the CCSD to complete its Emergency Water Supply (EWS) project during 2014. The EWS is a smaller scale version of the indirect potable reuse project described in the 2013 report (alternative 5). The key differences included reusing as much of the existing CCSD infrastructure as possible while keeping the project within the confines of CCSD-owned property located off of San Simeon Creek Road.
  • The CCSD completed the EWS project's design, permitting, and construction within a very aggressive 6-month period. The project first went into operation during January 2015. It is currently permitted to operate under an emergency coastal development permit issued by SLO County Planning & Building. An SEIR to support a Regular Coastal Development Permitting process was completed during 2017 and included modifications to the original project and the evolution of the facility from an emergency supply to the Sustainable Water Facility (SWF). In 2020, the Board of Directors changed the facility's name to the Water Reclamation Facility (WRF). The WRF maximizes the CCSD's water supply and provides reliability during the dry season. The WRF's Regular CDP is currently in process with the County and thus can only be run in Water Shortage Stages 5 and 6. Learn more about this project at our WRF webpage

Why is there a Water Wait List for permits?

  • There has been a long-standing water shortage, and the County has imposed a “growth management” ordinance that limits annual issuance of building permits.
  • The CCSD will not issue water commitments beyond those for which the County will process building permits. This ensures there is not a backlog of customers unable to build. The County wait list does not constitute a water commitment by the CCSD.
  • If a real estate agent tells you a property has a wait list position, be sure to confirm that it is a CCSD Water Wait List position and not a County Building Permit waiting list position.  A digital copy can be viewed here.
  • There are over 600 properties on the waitlist as of 2023 and there has been no movement on the list since the moratorium in 2001.

What does a waiting list position mean?

  • It entitles you to apply to connect to the water and sewer service when your position number is eligible for issuance, and upon your completion of all Intent to Serve letter requirements.

When can my project get water service?

  • For the 10 years prior to the November 2001 water emergency declaration, between 27 and 65 single-family projects received water service per year, depending upon whether San Luis County allowed a growth rate of 1% or 2.3% respectively. The Cambria CSD has not issued a new residential Intent letter since 2001.
  • The County of San Luis Obispo sets the countywide growth limit annually through limitations on issuance of building permits. The current growth rate allowed by the San Luis Obispo County is 0%.
  • The easiest way to build a new home is to purchase a current home, perform a full demolition, and build a new home on that property.
  • The County will not process a building permit for any project that does not have water, including projects designed to be “off-grid” (i.e. atmospheric or rainwater capture etc.).  If your property is within the CCSD service area, it must be served by CCSD water and sewer per the Local Coastal Plan (wells for potable use are not permitted within the CCSD service area).
  • There is no approximate timeline for the CCSD to lift the moratorium on new connections.  Current priorities include permitting the WRF and completing an Instream Flow Study. These milestones are required prior to addressing the issue of water availability for future growth. 

Why would someone not accept his or her Intent to Serve letter?

  • Accepting an Intent to Serve letter means the applicant must meet a number of requirements with considerable financial commitments and time deadlines.
  • If the owner is not prepared to actively pursue a building permit, hire an architect and builder, acquire financing, and pay substantial fees, they should not accept an Intent to Serve.
  • Failure to meet the requirements can result in a project being returned to the waiting list and forfeiture of certain fees. A project may defer one time without penalty. If you would like to apply for an extension, please complete an Intent to Serve Extension Application and submit it with the appropriate fee to the District office.

What about properties with no water position?

  • If a property has no water position, it is questionable whether a water permit could be obtained in the future.
  • Currently, the only option is to transfer water from another parcel that already has a position. The conditions under which a transfer is allowed include retirement of either the sender parcel or an approved alternate parcel. Transfers are limited to parcels with single-family residential water meters that meet certain size and location requirements.
  • If your property is smaller than 3,500 square feet (many single lots are only 1,750 sq. ft.) or is located in an area designated by San Luis Obispo County as Special Projects Area #1 (roughly Fern Canyon area to Romney Drive on Lodge Hill) or Special Project Area 2 (as depicted in Attachment "A" to Ordinance 02-2007), you cannot transfer water there.
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