Cambria’s unethical waste of water

August 30, 2015
Julie Tacker

Julie Tacker


The Cambrian recently reported that the Cambria Community Services District has eased their rule on outdoor irrigation. Though the district claims the that relaxing the ban will help with fire suppression, it earlier stated it was for financial gain.

The day before the board took action to revise their drought restrictions, they had a special meeting where district Manager Jerry Gruber provided nearly a dozen stopgap measures to reduce costs and increase revenue over the next six months of anticipated cash shortfalls.

For example, Gruber suggested deferring payments to creditors, a hiring freeze, postponing or deferring projects, and “allow outside irrigation at least one day per week to help mitigate impact of drought on trees and to generate additional revenue for the District.” In the staff report, Gruber says, “staff anticipates no increase in the amount of water being used due to the fact that water allocations will remain the same.”

Cambria is a champion community at saving water. Faced with years of water supply uncertainty and a hotly contended building moratorium, Cambrians have done a remarkable job of saving water. They have done so much to the chagrin of some residents, even board members, who have gone to great lengths to keep their ornamental gardens alive with non-potable water trucked to their properties.

Cambria has built an desalination emergency water system that has exceeded its original budget by nearly 50 percent. This is over what ratepayers approved and their 218 vote allowed. The district has also burned through general fund internal loans that district board approved.

The desalination plant was built with an emergency permit, if Cambria is no longer in an emergency, only then would it make sense to lift drought restrictions. This measure is simply to raise revenue for the districts ailing coffers in two ways.

First, simply to sell more water. And second, as the aquifer is depleted to the permitted level, the desalination plant can be turned on and much higher rates will be charged to pay for the equipment. The community approved higher water rates whenever the desalination plant is operating.

The staff report goes on to say, “Modifying of the outdoor irrigation watering schedule for the community should not necessarily be directly tied to the restarting of the emergency water system; however, staff will make every effort to restart the emergency water system based on the criteria that was outlined within the General Manager’s report in July of 2015 with a certain amount of flexibility relating to well levels and the gradient.”

This unethical use of water is disguised as a fire protection measure. While in fact, it’s a thinly veiled attempt to pay for the emergency water system boondoggle.

Julie Tacker is a 45-year resident of Los Osos and a San Luis Obispo countywide government watchdog.



  1. hijinks says:

    Sorry, Julie, but this is not one of your finer pieces — it’s grasping at (il)logical straws. First, the change doesn’t give people more water, it gives them greater choice in how they use their water allotment. How can choice be a bad thing? Second, those “chagrined” Cambrians trucking water for their gardens are rich guys and gals; this change allows commoners the right to reallocate how they use their water so they too can keep a big pine alive and avoid losing its companionship. It seems your allegations of being unethical and greedy just aren’t supported by the facts.

    (26) 38 Total Votes - 32 up - 6 down
    • Julie says:

      Not everyone is using their 50 gallon per day allotment, because they have been prohibited from using water outdoors. Now they will. More water WILL be used.

      (-14) 30 Total Votes - 8 up - 22 down
  2. Jorge Estrada says:

    Isn’t interesting that when there is a State declared emergency for a fire or a flood there is FEMA money but when the State declares an emergecy water curtailment due to a catostrophic drought the offset comes in the form of a local water rate increase.

    (10) 20 Total Votes - 15 up - 5 down
  3. BeenThereDoneThat says:

    Ah the insanity of……….don’t provide water and development goes away. CA. has had this mindset for YEARS. We have not built any significant source of water storage for YEARS. YET in the meantime (from early 80’s) we have almost doubled our population with the same source of water for use.

    Now I know all you Nimby’s will say………see this proves it still goes on even with restrictions so we need more restrictions, think of this. How much has the world grown in the meantime? Do you really think you could and would keep CA. at the same population? I say this because THAT is EXACTLY what your lame argument presents!!! Look at all the comments about building.

    Folks we need to stop playing the game of Chicken with water and look for other sources. Yes conservation is good but in a state of over 30 million and most of population in what is considered desert, we are still right at the edge of going over a cliff with water. So for all you that say, we aren’t doing enough (currently CA. cut 25%+) there isn’t much more for most of us to cut (short of bathing) WHAT is your solution? You all use the conservation bullshit but we are there!!!!

    (6) 30 Total Votes - 18 up - 12 down
    • Julie says:

      Opponents of the EWS offered lower cost water supply solutions that were ignored by the CCSD. No one wanted to say “I told you so,” but they told them so.

      (-13) 37 Total Votes - 12 up - 25 down
      • BeenThereDoneThat says:

        O.k. so what are the lower cost solutions? From my understanding of following over the years, the wells up the creek above Cambria boarder on dry. What other sources and choices short of Desal do they have?

        (16) 22 Total Votes - 19 up - 3 down
        • Julie says:

          The opponents of the EWS proposed a much less costly reservoir us stream in a nearby canyon that would have held 600AF.

          (-11) 17 Total Votes - 3 up - 14 down
          • FairAndBalanced says:

            How long would that take to do with all the permitting required for ANYTHING build in a coastal zone – think steelhead trout and the mitigations for them? I guess I should say, how many years?

            (14) 16 Total Votes - 15 up - 1 down
            • Francesca Bolognini says:

              EXCELLENT QUESTION. In my opinion, it would certainly be easier than the situation we have now, with a plant that Fish and Wildlife and the Coastal Commission adamantly oppose, that comes with an inability to handle the above acceptable levels of nitrates that we have coming out of the sewer system, where the money should have gone in the first place.

              There also exists a 700 page report from Fish and Wild life that details a project for off stream storage that would employ several small dams up Santa Rosa Creek on ranch property that would have several agencies willing to help, no need for EIRs due to the smaller scale of each dam, several ranchers in favor of participation and comes with the environmental seal of approval, as it would immediately enhance the endangered Steel Head population. Best of all, it would have most likely been financed by state funding for watershed inhancement. The CCSD, in in’s infinate wisdom, refused to even CONSIDER this.

              You may download a copy of this report at the Fish and Wildlife web site.

              But, it would have only led to sustainability, not a gleaming wave of developement and the “Little Carmel” effect that many real estate people in this town long for. As for those who think we are NIMBYs, I have seen this place triple in population since I moved here and I agree with those who think it makes a bit more sense for further growth to take place in locations that have the resources to accomodate it. This is a part of the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary and one of the few unspoiled areas of the California Coast, with an almost unique wealth of wildlife and scenery that people come from all over the world to experience. I feel that the enjoyment of these gifts requires responsibility and those who want to do things the way they did in Orange County should just return.

              (-2) 16 Total Votes - 7 up - 9 down
      • BeenThereDoneThat says:

        In the meantime I looked further myself. Nacimento and Whale Rock are mentioned as possible supplemental sources. Well that would require pipeline. $$$$ Additional yearly costs of pipeline $$$ I also assume land taken for pipeline through Imminent Domain. $$$$ So what else have I missed??

        (6) 14 Total Votes - 10 up - 4 down
        • BeenThereDoneThat says:

          Oh and BTW all costly and subject to drought, unlike ocean they sit next to.

          (9) 13 Total Votes - 11 up - 2 down
          • Julie says:

            They are not desalinating ocean water, they are desalinating brackish sewer discharge and creek water.

            (-11) 15 Total Votes - 2 up - 13 down
    • Joaquin says:

      CA cut 25%??? 80% of water used in CA is used by agriculture. So residents use 20%. What is 25% of 20%? That is a 5% reduction in total CA water usage. That 80% of water is for growing crops sent throughout the US and the world, not to mention critical foods such as strawberries and wine. So conserve, believe the gov’t’s 25%, and watch your efforts reward water products shipped out of CA. Understandably many farmers are conserving, wells are running dry, etc. But, look at brand new almond orchards being planted in the Central Valley. Come on down to Nipomo and see grassland that is converted to strawberries. Look at new fields being watered with Rainbirds in the middle of hot windy days just to settle the soil before anything is planted. And we are in a stage 3 drought. Maybe some fields need to lie fallow, maybe raising rice in flooded fields is not a good idea, maybe raising alfalfa for export to other countries shouldn’t happen. Believe what you want, even a good El Niño year may only be another warm winter since not all El Niños produce enhanced rainfall. Another drought year and perhaps, perhaps, reasonable steps will be taken to provide the water essential to CA citizens.

      (7) 19 Total Votes - 13 up - 6 down
    • hijinks says:

      “WHAT is your solution?” Well, a very astute one might be don’t build a huge population base in a desert where there’s inadequate water to support them. There are plenty of underpopulated areas in the USA where there’s plenty of water. Why not direct growth there instead of places nature can’t support it?

      (7) 9 Total Votes - 8 up - 1 down
  4. grayotter1 says:

    Originally I thought the $18 million loan for Cambrias quick water solution was a risky gamble. Now I see it as a devious way for large scale developers to wait until Cambria defaults on their loan. They will then have to give Fiscallini Ranch to the developers to cover the defaulted loan. Cambria benefits with a town 3 times larger, less water resources and a paved hiking/biking trail around all the new development.
    Oh yeah, they’ll still have to find more water as this current solution is going down the drain…

    (6) 28 Total Votes - 17 up - 11 down
    • Julie says:

      The community’s financial stability is at risk, all assets are of concern. A lawsuit has been filed by one of the vendors seeking long past due payment. It is likely others are lining up for payments past due. The districts reserves are dangerously low, while the aquifers, thanks to incredible conservation efforts, are holding steady.

      Fiscalini going to developers is an unlikely outcome, but privatizing the water system is a very real possibility if the district defaults on their loan. Residents need to pay attention, get involved and oust the district’s management, lobbyist, public information officer, and cut costs associated with the EWS experiment.

      (-21) 39 Total Votes - 9 up - 30 down
  5. Joaquin says:

    Seems CSDistricts simply do what they want. Nipomo CSD has for years ignored residents and continued to offer developers connections to a diminishing water supply. Residents voted down State water to no avail as it was brought in the “back door” from Santa Maria. Now, this year, we have a 50% increase in water costs, increasing each year hereafter. Newest bills do not have the “tiers” printed on them so actual costs to a customer are hidden. Sure, you can look at the NCSD website to try to determine your costs, but not everyone has that ability, or a computer. Simply dishonest and evasive. Be a developer and you now have extra water to develop and let the residents pay for the costs of the additional water.

    (14) 26 Total Votes - 20 up - 6 down

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