State Parks Funding

Santa Rosa Creek Natural Preserve, San Luis Obispo County

The town of Cambria overlooks the vast Pacific Ocean but often doesn't have enough fresh water for its residents. So the local community services district is turning to the sea for a fix.

The district proposes building a $20 million seawater desalination facility. As planned, the project requires access to state park land at Santa Rosa Creek Natural Preserve. The district wants to tap seawater filtering under the beach and a lagoon, a technique thought to be less damaging than pumping straight from the ocean. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the district's partner in the project, needs approval from San Luis Obispo County and the state parks department to drill test wells. Some locals worry the pumping will harm the sensitive lagoon.

"We have to calculate how much of an impact there is in boring down into the beach," said Nick Franco, district superintendent at the parks department.

The Army Corps hopes to begin the test wells in September. Battle lines are forming. An alliance has emerged between the community services district and farmers, who see the potential to relieve historic pressures on them to give up water for urban needs.

"I don't see how the project will amount to a significant impact on tourists or local residents," said Greg Sanders, the district's board president.

Others are not so sure. Among them is Catherine Ryan Hyde, author of "Pay It Forward."

"There is a creeping tendency to use public areas for these discretionary projects," she said via e-mail. "The parks are sitting ducks."

– Kathe Tanner