Drought in California

Posted by Christine, May 12, 2014


From Cambria Water Watch:
May 2014:  The Central Coast of California offers some of the most spectacular vistas on the West Coast, with the tiny town of Cambria as one of its highlights.  With a population just over 6,000 residents, Cambria has been facing a significant water shortage, mirroring the water crisis that faces the entire state, prompting Governor Jerry Brown to recently declare a state of emergency because of an ongoing drought. And yet, despite shortages, this week an estimated 4,000 visitors will arrive in this sleepy bucolic oasis for the Amgen Tour of California, the largest cycling event in America and one of the top races in the world.

But a recent shut-down of public restrooms, lack of water served in restaurants and other water-saving measures has not been enough to assuage fears about what will happen when the summer tourist season, with its many thousands of visitors, meets the realities of a town struggling just to keep its residents hydrated and gardens green. Already, Cambria residents are prohibited from watering landscaping or washing cars, and many are purchasing water tanks to keep their landscape alive and the forest from dying.  Staffers at the Cambria Community Services District estimate the town could run out of water by late summer.  Yet recently, the 345,000 gallon world famous Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle was refilled for the filming of a Lada Gaga video.

The paradox that residents are facing will be increasingly familiar throughout the West as the impacts of climate change and drought become increasingly visible.  On the one hand residents are being asked to reduce their water consumption to 49 gallons per day, yet commercial accounts have recently been allowed to reduce a mere 20% seasonally rather than yearly. Resentments are building about what is seen by some as the privatization of tourist profits but the socialization of costs of large scale events such as the Amgen Tour of California, which results in the degradation of Cambria’s infrastructure and sensitive ecosystem.

If Cambria is truly in a water crisis, it would seem that reducing water use thru limiting the intensity of commercial lodging, or reducing the number of tourism events during the summer and fall would be a part of the local plan. Instead, through increased transient occupancy taxes levied on lodging with proceeds benefitting the Cambria Tourism Board to promote Cambria, the area is now experiencing year round increases in tourism with no monies being used to fund infrastructure or provide water.

The race for a rational approach to solving the area’s problems is certainly on, with discussions centering on an allegedly temporary desalination plant, a dream long pursued by The Cambria Community Services District despite vociferous objections by residents and repeated denials by the California Coastal Commission.  The district is expecting to receive permits, construct, and install a brackish water desalination plant between May and August of 2014, which would allow for a 2 month testing window to make sure the water is safe for community of Cambria to drink by October 1, 2014. The Desal Emergency project, although described as temporary, will cost between $4-7 million to provide 250 acre feet of water in the dry season, with the permanent version estimated at $15 million.


Algae Blooms in the CCSD PERC ponds

CDM project map

   Forest Losses in 2014 – major habitat loss


Water Storage Tanks for Residential use being added by Cambrians and filled with non-potable water trucked to residential sites

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