Water: An Update and Look to the Future

Loch-Lomond-Reservoir-is-at-its-lowest-level-since-1991.

Loch Lomond Reservoir is at its lowest level since 1991. Photo courtesty of http://www.tpgonlinedaily.com/

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.

1 Comment

  1. Steve Pleich says:

    Water Supply Security Needs More that Baseline Options

    Everyone knows that California is experiencing one of the worst droughts in its history. And while we in Santa Cruz may be enjoying another day in Paradise, our city has not otherwise escaped the straightjacket of the ongoing water shortage. Because of this heightened awareness about the questionable future of our water supply, the word conservation is on the minds of every resident and on the lips of every elected official and city staffer. But what, precisely, do we mean when we consider conservation measures as a viable approach to water sustainability? Civic leaders have suggested simply using less water and have created very modest programs to make low flow toilets and fixtures available to residents. Conservationists recommend the policies of water transfer and water neutral development. But these are not realistic “endgame” solutions. Indeed, what has been advocated thus far has, in my view, established only a baseline policy and assiduously avoids asking the difficult questions that may actually lead to water supply security. So let’s consider a couple.

    We should be asking why a policy or program has not been developed that would offer financial incentives to every homeowner willing to install grey water re-catchment or “laundry to landscape” systems that could easily and safely reuse existing household water. We should be asking why a similar policy has not been developed that would offer incentives to every homeowner who would be willing and able to install rainwater catchment systems large enough to make the effort worthwhile. The city program which offers 65 gallon barrels to residential water users doesn’t even qualify as a “baseline” program. Rather, we should be looking at inexpensive and space practical catchment barrels of 250 gallons or more that could have a significant impact on potable water use in the near term.

    And here’s a question that hasn’t been asked much less answered as we assess our community’s future water supply: Why hasn’t the City of Santa Cruz, which has such a well established and reasonably well implemented Storm Water Management System, invested at least some time and energy into thoroughly investigating the creation of a Storm Water Recapture and Reuse System? Is even one drop of the storm water that washes into our sewers and drains recaptured for any use? That’s a question every resident of Santa Cruz should be asking; and they should be asking it to their elected officials and their Water Department today and every day until they get a satisfactory answer.

    The future sustainability of our water supply is perhaps the single most challenging issue that faces our community today. Tomorrow may bring new thoughts and new beginnings and we can look with great hope to waste water recycling which may be as few as five years away and would create many millions of gallons of new, potable water. But for today, we need to ask the important questions in order to meaningfully push the “baseline” of water security models past the present limited thinking. On an issue of this importance, our reach must surely exceed our grasp.

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