Water: An Update and Look to the Future
Were you in Santa Cruz during the worst drought on record? Said another way, were you here this summer? We not only had one of our driest years on record (after having a particularly dry year right before) but we also had a turbulent summer with regards to water politics: Grand Jury reports were released, new committees were formed and a certain water board threatened to stop all new development. As the old saying about water and whiskey goes… never mind I’ll spare as you have likely heard it 3 times since waking up. Here is a quick breakdown of what has been going on in within the City of Santa Cruz. This update is particularly timely, as the city council will be voting on a 5 year 10% annual rate increase this Tuesday.
In 2012 voters passed Measure P, aka the “right to vote on desal”, which despite how some were advertising it, was not actually a vote on desal. The measure basically said that if the City Council ever tries to pull a fast one and build a desalination plant, it needs to pass the voters first. However, the political pressure mounted and gained enough headway to force then Mayor Hilary Bryant to call for a “reset” on water, it also saw the departure of Bill Kocher as Water Director. Since then the city department as been hard at work clamping down on over usage through amped up drought restrictions, and has even set up a now much heralded drought school, modeled after a traffic school which over users can attend instead of paying a larger fine.
However, as part of this larger water reset, the council also appointed a Water Supply Advisory Committee (WSAC), made up of prominent members from across the political spectrum, to engage in a public exploration and discussion about our local water supply. In a similar format to the previous Public Safety Task Force, this group has been meeting regularly, learning about the our water supply and problems, and has now begun to explore some potential solutions. This includes putting on an Ideas Symposium, to be held all day October 16th at the Civic Auditorium, which will provide the public with an opportunity to weigh in on a number of proposals submitted by other members of our community. Since desal has been thrown into question, we have been hearing about a bunch of other alternatives, from recycled water, to detailed conservation plans, to water transfers, and even expanded storage capacity. Now these ideas will finally have their day of open public consideration that will feed directly into the committees recommendations.
Did we mention that even if you can’t attend the symposium, you will still be able to read and rate each proposal online using Civinomics? We will have an online portal set up for 2 weeks that will be reviewed by the committee alongside their own evaluations. A list of all of the submitted ideas is available here, with the ideas currently set to be presented at the Symposium marked in green as “adopted.”
Additionally the Santa Cruz City Council will be considering a 10% water rate increase, for the next 5 years straight. Yes, that’s 50% total, but 10% each year for the next five years, to be considered this Tuesday. The purpose of this increase is to recoup capital costs for upgrading infrastructure, and for making up lost revenue from our lower than normal water usage. This item will be considered during the 7pm session of council if you are interested.