LandWatch group challenges Cambria's Emergency Water Supply Project



Supporters of an ongoing project intended to supply much-needed emergency water to the parched community of Cambria now have one more barrier to overcome.

The Cambria Community Services District Board of Directors approved an Emergency Water Supply Project over the summer, and construction is already underway on the plant. The project will use a multistep process to treat brackish and reclaimed effluent, providing a backup water source to bolster the town’s diminishing water supply. The community has mixed feelings about the project, which was approved under an emergency coastal development permit issued by the county. That permit will expire on Nov. 15, leaving the project subject to a new round of regulatory permitting from state agencies.

The project is now under legal scrutiny, after the group LandWatch of San Luis Obispo, joined by the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic, filed a challenge on Oct. 14 that questions whether the project is appropriately exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act process.

Cynthia Hawley, a Cambria-based attorney and a board member of LandWatch, said that while they recognize the presence of a water emergency, they feel that that emergency was improperly used to justify the project’s hasty approval.

The lawsuit sparked a blistering response from the Cambria CSD; an Oct. 16 press release reads: “Perhaps most disturbing, the lawsuit has the temerity to question whether there is in fact an emergency. This is a preposterous position given the undeniable reality of the water crisis Cambria is facing. The fact that Cambria is in an unprecedented emergency has been recognized by every level of government in the permitting process, from the Governor’s Office to the County of San Luis Obispo.”

Hawley sees the suit differently, however.

“There is nothing in the lawsuit that is intended to halt the delivery of emergency water,” she said. “We’re looking at [the CSD’s use of an emergency permit] as a way of getting out of the proper environmental review.”

The proceedings will begin with a case management conference at the Paso Robles branch of the San Luis Obispo Superior Court on Dec. 1.

-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay

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