Over the last six weeks, CCSD Board members have provided specific information articles regarding the proposed Proposition 218 rate increases. That information has described the age, condition, maintenance, and replacement needs for our Water and Wastewater (Sewer) Utilities.
CCSD’s Utilities must be financially self-supporting enterprises by law. Service charges are the main source of revenue for each Utility and specific to that Utility. Water cannot pay for Sewer, and Sewer cannot pay for Water. Being familiar with the District operating structure and how utility rates are legally controlled provides insight to Board actions. It is also important for Cambrians to understand operational impacts to District Utilities if the proposed rates are rejected. In other words, “What do we risk”? A simple response is the potential of Utility system failures and significant regulatory agency fines.
Our hard-working and capable Utilities staff maintain these aged infrastructures daily. They are the front line in recognizing the current risks and impacts of a failed system, while continuing to provide service. Failure does not mean all components currently needing attention or replacement have broken down. A loss in one area of Utility processes can easily lead to other impacts.
Consider the wide-ranging impacts of a major sewage line or pump station failure. What effects would there be to community health by loss of sanitary access in our homes or businesses. What risks would there be for environmental impact? Or consider the impact to our firefighting capability if an area of the water distribution system loses pressure due to a complete lift pump failure? Because of age, the ability to address equipment failures has become more difficult. Supply chain challenges for parts and equipment present added risk for timely replacement materials. Many of our infrastructure components are so aged and outdated that replacement parts are no longer available, adding another complexity.
Wastewater (Sewer) System Impact. This is the primary area of risk for the District. Rate increases would provide the yearly debt service revenue to support the $12 million of critical repair, replacement, and enhancement projects. These identified projects were determined through a focused assessment of Cambria’s Wastewater Treatment plant and auxiliary systems over the past several years. The assessment also concluded that, if these requirements are ignored, the Sewer System is and will remain in a vulnerable condition and will be at risk of operational failure.
Without the proposed rate increase, the District will be unable to obtain needed funding. The District could not undertake the necessary projects to prevent the risk of operational failure. If there were a significant failure which CCSD could not address financially, the County would step in and assume authority for the District wastewater services. If the experience of Los Osos Community Service District is an indication, any loans the County would obtain to address the repair and replacement needs of the Cambria Wastewater Plant would be sustained by our community through property tax assessments. In addition, the Utility’s revenue needs would be evaluated and adjusted to meet operational and maintenance needs. Rate increases would result.
Water System Impact. Our Water Facility is in a similar state of age and continues to require ongoing rehabilitation and replacements. The highest impact for failure and cost risk is within the 66.7 miles of underground water main pipelines from the 1960s and 1970s. Cambria’s rollercoaster topography contributes to the constant repairs and replacements due to age, leaks/breaks, and root intrusion. It is common that line replacement or repair has additional cost in road repair. The recent loss of our community’s main water supply line from the San Simeon wells is a case in point for age failure. It also highlighted that infrastructure failures are expensive. The emergency fix of that line cost $400,000 with the outstanding permanent repair expected to be upwards of $2 million.
Water’s capital improvement needs lie in the supporting infrastructure, particularly in potential failure of booster stations which lift water to our storage tanks through eight pressure zones. The assessment also identified replacement of well pumps at the San Simeon and Santa Rosa well sites. In addition to facility and infrastructure needs, there is a much-needed Water Meter Replacement Program. The meters are past their life cycle and have been failing. When a meter fails, data must be read manually. Failing meters also may be sporadic and recording inaccurately.
The District has been truly fortunate to have Water and Wastewater Utilities staffed by knowledgeable and proficient professionals. They have been able to creatively and effectively work through equipment issues and failures for several years. We need to reduce failure risk and not be complacent in thinking things can continue to be addressed with short term fixes and repairs. As a community, we need to take responsible, proactive steps to fund the needed repairs and equipment upgrades.