Cambria facing almost $600,000 in fines
February 12, 2017
By KAREN VELIE
Editor’s Note: The Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board’s complaint and notices of violation are included at the bottom of this article.
The Cambria Community Services District is facing almost $600,000 in fines because district staff has chronically filed late reports and failed to comply with water quality regulations, according to a Feb. 9 complaint from the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board. As a result, the water board slapped Cambria with three notices of violation.
In 2015, regulators began informing district staff that they were not in compliance with reporting requirements for its emergency water desalination plant. Because of this, in addition to the fines, the water board is considering issuing a cease and desist order for the desalination plant, which has already cost the district more than $13 million.
Even though there is a $1,000 a day fine for late reporting, district staff has been late on filing reports 466 days during the past two years. District staffers also failed to properly report flooding events and properly operate the brine pond.
Because of the issues, the water board helped the district eliminate duplicative monitoring and construct a tool to aid district staff in completing required monitoring in a timely fashion. The water board also sent the district reminders of upcoming reporting dates and overdue reports.
“Given the extensive assistance water board staff has provided to the district, water board staff considers the chronic failure to submit timely reports and updates of significant changes to the surface impoundment to be egregious violations of water quality regulations and orders, and as such to pose a serious threat to the integrity of the water board’s regulatory program and water quality,” according to a notice of violation.
On Jan. 10, Cambria resident Tina Dickason called the water board to inform them of flooding at the plant’s brine pond. Dickason also shared photos she had taken of the flooding with the water board.
At a Jan. 19 district board meeting, Dickason voiced her concerns about the flooding and the possible contamination it could cause.
District General Manager Jerry Gruber responded by publicly chastising Dickason for contacting the water board.
“Frankly, I just think it gets really old when Ms. Dickason continues to take pictures and sends them to Regional Water Quality Control Board and takes up their staff time and takes up our staff time,” Gruber said during the Jan. 19 meeting. “It wastes a lot of our time. It wastes a tremendous amount of regional water quality control board staff time. They have better things to do.
“If I was to do a public records request from State Water Resources Control Board, from Regional Water Quality Control Board, from the county and from the California Coastal Commission on the four or five people that [sic]. It will probably fill this table.
“And some point in time, I am going to do that, just to show you that it borderlines harassment and she knows it. I got a call from the Regional Water Quality Control Board this morning, they have better things to do than to be Tina Dickason’s servant. And that’s how they feel,” Gruber added.
In its complaint, the water board condemned Gruber for his treatment of Dickason.
“We do not agree with your representation of our position regarding information we receive from Ms. Dickason or other members of the public,” according to the water board’s complaint. “We value the information and reports we get from citizens, and we request that you publicly retract your statements. Please do not characterize water board staff’s position in this manner or speak for water board staff in the future.”
In one of the notices of violation, the water board orders the district to provide technical information and reports or face further action including additional fines and state enforcement.
“If the water board elects to refer the matter to the attorney general, the superior court may impose civil liability for up to $5,000 per day for each violation (California Water Code section 13268(b)(2)),” the complaint says. “Days of violation and the associated potential civil liability continue to accrue for each day of non-compliance. The water board reserves its right to take any enforcement action authorized by law.”