The Future of Water in Santa Cruz
Everything that we have worked for comes alive this Thursday. In what will be an unparalleled opportunity for public participation, Santa Cruz Water Department customers will have the opportunity to evaluate over 50 citizen submitted proposals for addressing our water supply needs, in-person and online via Civinomics. This Thursday, in what truly demonstrates the City’s commitment to the public process of the Water Supply Advisory Committee, an “Ideas Convention” will be held at the Civic Auditorium in downtown from 11am to 9pm. And while this may not be that out of the ordinary to some, to us this is a landmark day that represents a fundamental shift in an approach to public policy, a truly open and equitable process of decision making that puts civic engagement at the forefront. Here is why it’s so important:
1. Since the “reset” on desalination occurred last fall a number of happenings have helped to reframe the debate for this time around. Most significantly, the creation of the Water Supply Advisory Committee, a group of citizens appointed from all sides of the political spectrum, with a commitment to transparency, operating on a consensus based decision model. An impressive, if not idealistically impossible dynamic, in theory, that has actually proven fairly effective and adept at working through the nuances of our local water supply, despite having a slow start. The structure and preliminary success of this committee alone provides significant hope for the capacity of everyday citizens, who can at times disagree, to come together and work toward a common end. Surely this process can be replicated to solving a whole host of problems.
2. Whereas the debate over the past two years was focused squarely on desal (to be or not to be), this time a thorough and comprehensive exploration of alternative options is underway. This includes a side by side comparison of the previously proposed desalination plant with other supply options including graywater, recycled water and the creation of a reservoir just to name a few. Staff within the Water Department (through a tremendous amount of work) have even revived the old Zayante Creek Dam proposal for additional consideration. We cannot stress enough how truly different this process is. In short, nothing like this has ever happened before so publicly. Beyond the actual consideration of options, literally everyone has been given the opportunity to present. For better or for worse, novices will be sharing the stage with experts.
3. The commitment to public participation and access is genuine. Both the committee members and the Water Department have spent an incredible amount of time and energy to promote this event. From conducting thorough stakeholder engagement through groups like the Business Council and Sierra Club, to purchasing radio and print advertisements encouraging participation, all while bringing in the who’s who of regional water experts to help provide more clarity, they have proven beyond a doubt that your input really matters. In terms of how this manifests, Civinomics will be on site throughout the day to conduct exit interviews of those in attendance, as well as the ability to evaluate each proposal both digitally and on paper. For those who cannot attend the event, or would prefer to review the proposals on their own time, all of the citizen submitted ideas can be evaluated online at civ.io/santacruzwater.
Each proposal can be rated based upon four criteria: Effectiveness, Practicability, Environmental Benefits and Local Economic Benefits, on a 1 to 5 scale. Additionally, because of the built in functionality of social media you can also make proc/con statements on specific ideas, ask questions and leave general comments, meaning that our community can have an ever evolving, constructive discussion about our water supply options, online, over the course of two full weeks. Something like this Has. Never. Happened. Before. Anywhere. Ever.
The results of this discussion and the collective evaluation of these proposals will then be reviewed by the Water Supply Advisory Committee, who, along with their facilitators and staff still have 6 more months of meetings and presentations. Come spring, they will be submitting their recommendations to the City Council for further actions.
For the first time, the internet will be used as a true vehicle for civic participation on an unprecedented scale. And it’s happening in our community. This is what makes this opportunity so unique. This is why we are so tremendously proud to be a part of Santa Cruz, a community with a willingness to try new things and novel approaches, and to carve out the next frontier through hard work and innovation. This is the story we will be telling come October 16th. This is why the Ideas Convention represents something truly special. We hope you will join us.
To see all of the proposals online go to civ.io/santacruzwater