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Cambria receives most of withheld DWR grant 

Four months after the Cambria Community Services District sounded the alarm about a poor financial situation it blamed in part on a grant being withheld by the state, the district’s got its money.

The Cambria Community Services District (CCSD) qualified in 2014 for a $4.38 million grant from the Department of Water Resources (DWR) to provide partial funding for a controversial water supply project. The grant is part of the DWR’s Proposition 84 funding for projects geared toward providing drinking water, improving water quality, or water conservation. The CCSD grant was part of a package of projects submitted to the DWR by San Luis Obispo County, which acts as a sort of broker for the funding.

The state told the CCSD in August that it did not satisfy a key requirement—the completion of a groundwater management plan—and that the funds would be withheld until those requirements were met.

In response, CCSD General Manager Jerry Gruber issued a dire forecast for the district’s financial situation for the remainder of 2015, saying that the district expected those funds and budgeted accordingly.

“Although we all believed that we would have received the funds by now, as of this report we have not,” Gruber wrote in the staff report for the CCSD’s Aug. 19 meeting. “The CCSD has committed several million dollars of its own funding for the Emergency Water Supply Project and has made daily operational financial decisions for all the departments within the organization based on those assumptions.”

Gruber directed the blame to an ongoing lawsuit filed by the environmental group LandWatch, which is seeking an injunction on the project until adequate environmental review is completed. At that time, however, the CCSD had not updated its groundwater plan, after pledging that the plan would be completed by July 2015. The DWR maintained a position that they would not turn over the funds until the plan was completed.

In response to the funds being withheld, the CCSD quickly underwent the process to submit that plan, which was adopted on Nov. 19. On Dec. 17, the CCSD announced that it received $4.16 million from the state, issued through the grant’s applicant, SLO County. That funding was awarded to cover some of the costs to build the Emergency Water Supply project, which the district is now referring to as the Sustainable Water Facility. That facility treats brackish water and treated wastewater and injects that treated water back into the aquifer for the town to use when well levels are low.

The state is still withholding 5 percent of the grant, or approximately $220,000, until the Sustainable Water Facility is certified as complete.

-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay

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