After roughly 5 1/2 weeks of an emergency water treatment plant operating in Cambria, that town’s Community Services District got its first slap on the wrist in what’s been an uphill battle for the project.
The Emergency Water Supply (EWS) project, which went online Jan. 20, treats brackish and treated wastewater and injects it into the aquifer to bolster the community’s wells, which operate as the sole water source there. The shallow wells have seen steep declines in levels,* bringing the community to severe drought conditions. In response, the Cambria Community Services District (CCSD) implemented strict usage limitations for residents and businesses. The heavily scrutinized project has received permits from a gamut of state and federal agencies, including the water board, California Coastal Commission, California Department of State Parks, and the state and U.S. departments of Fish and Wildlife.
In a Feb. 27 notice sent to CCSD officials, the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (CCRWQCB) detailed a list of violations in three specific permits issued by the board. The violations include an unauthorized relocation of a discharge pipe, high chlorine content in fresh water discharged to maintain Van Gordon Creek levels, insufficient logging of the available surface impoundment of brine, and erosion.
The notice gives leaders 30 days to bring the project into compliance. In a March 3 statement released in response to the notice, the CCSD acknowledged “the EWS has at least temporarily been out of compliance with permit provisions in three general areas.” The statement claims that many of the issues have since been resolved, and that others are the result of a work-in-progress and are resolvable.
Other violations were downplayed, including the chlorine levels entering the creek, which the CCSD said were “normal for drinking water use, but above levels allowed [for] discharge into the lagoon.”
The CCRWQCB’s notice and the CCSD’s response both had firm but cordial language.
“We realize and appreciate that the CCSD has been working diligently to design, build, and test this new system in an emergency situation, and that you are dealing with multiple challenges simultaneously. Some of the enforcement actions we take are mandatory per the California Water Code, while others are more discretionary. Our discretionary enforcement actions beyond this Notice of Violation will be determined based on your responses to this Notice of Violation and your future compliance with Orders regulating this facility,” the notice reads, highlighting the potential for $1,000 per-day fines for each violation, which eventually could increase to $5,000 per day.
In response, the CCSD wrote: “In closing, we want to reiterate our strong belief that the CCRWQCB is our partner, not our adversary, in all matters concerning the Emergency Water Supply project.”
* Correction: New Times incorrectly characterized the well levels and the status of permits for Cambria’s Emergency Water Supply (EWS) project. During rainy periods, well levels in Cambria have been at a normal level in recent months, and the EWS hasn’t been fully permitted by state agencies.
-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay