In the News

Go Green Column: Transboundary Water: Sharing Water, Sharing Opportunities

By Ron Duncan

Santa Cruz Sentinel, 05/02/2009

Often we focus on how individuals can conserve and participate in helping solve our regional water issues. However, local agencies are working together to manage our shared water resources as well.

Hydrologic systems, such as rivers, lakes and aquifers, do not adhere to political or man-made geographic boundaries. Groundwater and surface water that flow across jurisdictional borders is called "transboundary water." Because of the potential for conflict and benefits afforded by transboundary water, it is being recognized as a critical issue in the water world.

For example, the theme for World Water Day think water version of Earth Day on March 22 was "transboundary water: sharing water, sharing opportunities."

According to the World Water Day Web site, transboundary water covers nearly half of the Earth's land surface and involves 145 countries. Also, much of the state and federal grant money for water issues is now contingent upon local agencies showing cooperation with transboundary water.

Transboundary water is prevalent here in Santa Cruz County, which relies exclusively on rainfall on the ocean side of the Santa Cruz Mountains for all human and environmental water supplies. Most of the region's aquifers and surface water sources are transboundary.

For example, the aquifers underlying much of the Mid-County region provide water to the Soquel Creek Water District, Central Water District, the city of Santa Cruz, several mutual water companies  and numerous private well owners. Although transboundary water can be a source of tension, it can also create opportunities for entities that cooperatively address water issues.

Until a few years ago, local water and resource agencies mainly worked independently. Now, nine of these agencies are implementing the spirit of this year's World Water Day theme of "sharing water, sharing opportunities." The results have been unprecedented progress in addressing regional water resources issues.

Local examples of integrating and coordinating water resources planning and management demonstrate how partnerships among public agencies improve the ability to address the range of serious water resource issues including water supply, water quality and environmental protection. A few examples of local coordination are:

  • Since June 2002, the following local agencies worked together to develop an Integrated Regional Water Management Plan and secure funding for projects identified in that plan: County of Santa Cruz, Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz County, Soquel Creek Water District, Santa Cruz County Sanitation District, city of Santa Cruz Water Department, Scotts Valley Water District and the city of Watsonville. The Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County formed a subsidiary organization known as the Regional Water Management Foundation to administer the initial $12.5 million state water bond grant received by this group last year.
  • The city of Santa Cruz and Soquel Creek Water District have formed a partnership to evaluate seawater desalination as a supplemental water supply to address water shortage issues for the communities of Santa Cruz, Live Oak, Capitola, Soquel, Aptos and La Selva Beach.
  • Local water agencies have formed the Water Conservation Coalition to promote water conservation in a broader and more cost-effective manner than can be achieved by the individual agencies.
  • Five water agencies Santa Cruz Water Department, Scotts Valley Water District, Soquel Creek Water District, San Lorenzo Valley Water District and Santa Cruz County recently teamed to pursue a federal grant to evaluate possible water transfers and exchanges among those agencies in order to respond to emergencies and better manage local water resources.
  • The Santa Cruz Water Department and the Scotts Valley Water District are evaluating a program to provide recycled water for the Pasatiempo Golf Course from the Scotts Valley recycled water facility in exchange for potable water supply from the Santa Cruz to supplement Scotts Valley Water District's supplies.
  • Soquel Creek Water District, Central Water District, Santa Cruz Water Department and Santa Cruz County have formed the Soquel-Aptos Groundwater Management Alliance to coordinate and enhance groundwater management efforts throughout the Mid-County area.
  • Santa Cruz County, Scotts Valley Water District, San Lorenzo Valley Water District and Santa Cruz Water Department are looking at methods to increase groundwater storage in the Scotts Valley groundwater basin to increase water supply and increase summer flows in the San Lorenzo River.
  • Santa Cruz County is working with the other water resource agencies to implement projects and policies to promote groundwater recharge by reducing storm water runoff to the benefit of increasing groundwater supplies.

The world and local agencies are recognizing that working together is the most effective and beneficial way to manage our natural resources.

Thanks to staffs of our local water and resource agencies for contributing to this article.

Ron Duncan writes a biweekly column for the Sentinel on water-related issues. He is a manager for the Soquel Creek Water District, which promotes water conservation and helps protect local water resources. The district offers free home/business water survey visits call 475-8500. Ron can be reached at

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