Rural Cambria struggles with desalination

Posted by Christine, August 7, 2011

The Cambrian in northern San Luis Obispo County, California, reports on the community and state agencies resistance to the Community Services District Board’s persistence in pursuing a desalination plant:

For the past four years, Cambria’s services district has wanted to test and measure water and sand near the mouth of Santa Rosa Creek, to determine if enough salty water could be drawn from beneath the shore to supply a desalination plant. But the district’s been unable to get permission for those tests from several of the agencies that control the areas.

The plant would be a drought-proof alternative supply of water for the town of about 6,000.

Now, there’s another potential problem for the planned desalination-related testing. Last year, the data-collecting tests were halted within a State Parks nature preserve around the creek, in part because, according to Public Resources Code 5001.8, motorized vehicles aren’t allowed in those kinds of highly protected areas.

New Times, the alternative weekly in San Luis Obispo, sent reporter Matt Fountain to keep track:

“Reinvigorate” was the word of the day at the July 28 Cambria Community Services District Board of Directors meeting. It was used repeatedly by directors, staff, and the lobbyist hired to secure federal money for an “alternate water source” in the coastal North County community.

One word that was tip-toed around, however—at least by those on the CCSD payroll—was “desalination,” though it was clearly on the tip of everyone’s tongues.

The latest public board meeting followed the release of the district’s 2011-12 budget and was a show in renewed interest and optimism. It was also a place to debate geological testing that will determine if the location near Shamel Park and the state beach at Santa Rosa Creek is a viable one for the long-proposed desalination plant.

Currently, the joint CCSD-Army Corps of Engineers geotechnical testing is comprised of drilling test wells approximately 80 feet down near the mouth of Santa Rosa Creek to determine if underground pipes could collect enough seawater to supply a plant.

He concludes: Critics contend that desalination is the “most expensive water money can buy” and should only be used as a last resort. Some publicly question the direness of Cambria’s water shortage and whether the push for a desal plant is really a push for increased development in the coastal community.