Cambria is running out of time and money

September 15, 2015
Cambria Pond

Cambria brine pond


The Cambria Community Services District has just two and a half months before it will begin operating in the red, according to the district’s latest projections.

Cambria is currently strapped for cash as it tries to get a $13 million emergency water desalination project operating correctly. The rate payers voted to raise water rates at times the desalination plant is operating. However, because of engineering deficiencies the plant is rarely operational.

Meanwhile, the district is awaiting the arrival of $4.3 million in grant funds to offset rising costs. But, the grant funds may not arrive in time to keep the district in the black.

On Thursday, District General Manager Jerry Gruber told the board that the district would complete September with a balance of a little more than $600,000. The district’s balance sheet is slated to be negative $43 by the end of November if the grant money does not arrive, according to the latest projections.

On Tuesday evening, a district board subcommittee will discuss additional water and sewer rate increases, which are now under consideration. In addition to paying for the water project, the district will soon have to make sewer repairs.

Last year, water rates in Cambria effectively doubled. Prior to September 2014, the average monthly residential water bill was $48.02. The rate hike increased the average bill to $109.02 when the emergency water system is operating and to $85.02 when it is not.

The district constructed the water project under an emergency permit, but the supply system has thus far generated little water for Cambria residents. Earlier this year, the district operated the water system for about two and a half months. It had numerous flaws and needed to be shut down for repairs.

In particular, a pond is too small to effectively treat the brine laden water. The district paid engineering firm CDM Smith $500,000 to design and construct the pond and then agreed to pay another $500,000 to have the pond fixed.

The district still owes CDM Smith $1.5 million, Gruber said at the board meeting last week. The district has been deferring payments to water project contractors, a district staff reports states.

The emergency water supply project transforms a mix of fresh water, seawater, creek underflow and wastewater into potable water for residents.

In addition to containing a faulty design, the emergency water project prompted a costly lawsuit.

LandWatch of San Luis Obispo County sued the district last year, alleging the district breached state law by rushing through the project while skipping required components of an environmental review.

The district has spent $160,000 battling the lawsuit and plans to spend an additional $250,000 on its legal defense.

Gruber is currently proposing reducing district services in order to keep the district afloat. At last week’s meeting, he offered possible cost-cutting measures, including moving administrative offices into the fire department, reducing hours of operation, selling district-owned properties and canceling broadcasts of board meetings.

The general manager said that he did not want to freak everyone out and make them think the district would sell all its property and move into the fire department. But, Gruber also said it is not in the district’s best interest to pay $3,600 a month in rent for the district office.

Prior to construction of the water supply system, district officials said the project would cost less than $9 million. The district is now counting on a state drought-related grant to cover an additional $4.3 million in costs.

In order to acquire the grant funds, the district must have a state-approved water management plan.

District counsel Tim Carmel said a water management plan takes about two months to complete. It requires three public hearings, he added, noting that the district plans to adopt the plan at its regular November meeting. Critics say it will take longer.

Additionally, the district will not receive the grant funds all at once. The state will examine district expenditures prior to reimbursing them.

The district also has some risk of losing the grant money because of the ongoing lawsuit. If LandWatch were to prevail in its suit against the district, Cambria would have to return all of the grant funds to the state.

District officials have said, in that worst case scenario, the district would not abandon the water project. Rather, it would wait until it obtains a regular permit in order to operate the water system.

The board subcommittee will meet at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to take public input on anticipated rate increases.

the needle

About 35 years ago the ccsd was formed to manage water wait lists.In that time they led us down a path of heaping horrible actions on top of each other till-THIS

Time to rise up and VOTE the ccsd out of existence before they bankrupt us all..Cayucos has no csd,and a similar structure as cambria,the county handles water billing,waitlists etc. The ccsd is a TOTALLY unneeded level of government existing for no other reason than to rape the taxpayers to feather their own nests.


Hear, hear! The ccsd is also trying to get rid of the fire department. A big mess created by these ccsd members, and Cambrians have to pay for it.


Still lower water rates than SLO, and it actually goes to supply water to current ratepayers, not subsidize development.

Francesca Bolognini

I appreciate this article, as it deffinately points up more of the facts of this situation that need to be publicly known. You are not likely to ever see them in the Cambrian, which exists, in my opinion, to sell real estate rather than inform. There are several more points that would be relevant, let me share a few.

This desal plant was a NO BID PROJECT, with NO THIRD PARTY EXPERT OVERSIGHT. There is a connection between the designer and the installer and a past head of the CCSD, who is senior partner in their mutual law firm, whose mission statement on line pretty much sums them up as experts in defeating environmental law for developement. When we “go bankrupt” and default (within 3 DAYS) on the loan agreement that the CCSD made with the hedge fund in Las Vegas, we lose the assets of the CCSD. This includes our water infrastructure (privatized water) and the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, which, if they are as good as they think they are at dismantling environmental protections, would then become the developement of someone’s dreams.

WHERE IS THE ACCOUNTABILITY HERE????? It is my understanding that if I do something that is supposed to work and it does not, I do not get paid. We have not recieved a drop of water from this facility. Not only is the brine pool defective, the unit itself cannot cope with the well known factor of he nitrate levels emitted from our ancient sewer plant, where the money should have gone in the first place. Every time it is turned on, it kills the creek.

Supposedly our contract stated that these guys would owe us $1,000.00 per day from last Nov. for each day that this unit was inoperable. How could we possibly owe them a dime????? Bad legal advice is the understatement of the day. First the County, which I do not believe actually had the authority to do so, “approved” the project. Now they are back peddling like mad (asking for indemnification) because they do not want to be held financially accountable for what is most likely going to turn out to be a huge fiasco. Looks as though the CCSD board can lie to us about how much water we have (they told us all last year we were about to be out of water when we actually had, according to their own web site, above average seasonal levels), the Cambrian will print what ever they tell them to say and we can do nothing about the situation they have signed us into. Topping it off, we are now told that we have enough water to resume watering our outdoor foliage.

At this point it is my opinion that a CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION is the least that is needed to determine what, if any, wrong doing has taken place here. Environmental law has been completely ignored. I am sure there are pleanty of trolls on this site that would find that just fine, but Cambria is in a Marine Sanctuary and pretty much all of our business is tourism based on the natural beauty and wildlife of this place. It is NOT an appropriate spot to attempt to become “Little Carmel” (or Orange County, for that matter, since that is where most of the above action came from) or a rampant developement or anything else that would destroy what we are attempting to preserve for the future. What we have left is precious.


Whiskey’s for drinking, water’s for fighting over. It midnight Cinderella; what’s going on in Cambria is no different than the Harvard University Endowment buying “near worthless” grazing land out by Shandon and sinking big deep wells immediately. They know what’s up. Time for the rest of us to know too. Cambria will be Carmel just as certainly as SLO/Avila/Cherry Canyon/Price Canyon/Pismo/Leticia (you will soon not notice any transition between them) will be Santa Barbara.


The Cambrian newspaper is a joke and has no serious journalism.

Jorge Estrada

It is becoming obvious that the Building/Land Use, Planning Departament, needs to be under the same control as the resource mangagement. Maybe Cambria CSD needs to take on more control/responsibility or give it back to the County which has created the demand for something the Cambria CSD can not provide? Currently Cambria is being run like an un-spayed cat circus, feed by the customers.



From CDM Smith’s web site homepage:


We pay careful attention every step of the way.


We put the best minds to work to create the right total solutions.


We bring you start-to-finish services: plan, design, build and operate.


Carmel is in this also,theres some bad advice.

And a lawsuit by another chicken shit wanna be non profit save the earth group,if Carmel had any balls, he’d tell this group to go away.

Francesca Bolognini

Well, well, name calling. Typical troll tactics. That “chicken…..bla bla bla…” happens to be Stanford University Environmental Law Division on behalf of Land Watch and it appears as though they are the ONLY ones who are demanding ANY accountability whatsoever in this situation. Not to mention that LandWatch has offered to temporarily suspend the law suit.


Come on another worthless study these greenies want to waste dollars on, thank God we have roads,buildings and everything else we have before these small groups of liberals got a movement up[ and running.

Don’t you people ever get tired of some lousey little group wanting to sue a public agency, thats our tax dollars going to lawyers, and I don’t care who these misfits are, thats just a liberal think tank.


Is it my understanding that the District paid $500,000 to have engineering firm CDM Smith design the pond.

And then when it wasn’t sufficient due to a design flaw the District paid another $500,000 to CDM Smith to fix their design.

No wonder the District is going broke!

Maybe that extra $43 needs to be spent on somebody’s severance pay.


It’s a negative $43. And yes, dismissal is in order. No severance… For cause!


I agree! They screwed it up and we pay them AGAIN to fix it? Huh?


It’s the government way. Why not as long as it’s not “real” money or their own.


Disposal of brine is the project’s Achilles heel.


What exactly are engineering deficiencies? Does this simply mean it was built with flaws that prevent it from desalinating water?