In the News

Letters to the Editor: Desal and the Public Process

By Bill Kocher, Director, Santa Cruz Water Department and Laura Brown, General Manager, Soquel Creek Water District

Santa Cruz Weekly, August 5, 2009

The July 1 contribution in the Bullhorn section ("Desal and Democracy") contained a number of statements regarding the city of Santa Cruz and Soquel Creek Water District's exploration of desalination as a supplemental water supply that we believe deserve clarification.

Firstly, a decision on construction of a full-scale desalination plant has not been made. What was decided was to determine the feasibility of a desalination plant by building a pilot project and conducting other studies to inform the decision regarding pursuing a full-scale desalination project. The decision by the city of Santa Cruz to move ahead with a pilot project was the result of an Integrated Water Plan that took two years and 74 public meetings to complete. In attempting to prepare for drought shortfalls, the city council decided that the most feasible option to augment the local water supply was desalination of seawater. The Soquel Creek Water District conducted a similar in-depth and public evaluation of its options to address insufficient groundwater supplies that have resulted in overdraft and seawater intrusion of the mid-county aquifers. The issues and options considered are documented in that agency's Integrated Resources Plan.

Any decision about whether to construct a full-scale desalination plant will be made only after a thorough Environmental Impact Report is completed and reviewed. The report will study, among other things, the effects of a proposed desalination plant on marine life. The EIR will be subject to public hearings and review, during which time members of the public will be given ample opportunity to provide oral and written comments. Community members will continue to have the opportunity to be involved during every phase of the process.

Secondly, it was not the elected officials of either the city of Santa Cruz or the Soquel Creek Water District (referred to as "The Powers That Be") who decided there was a drought. California is in the midst of a third year of drought, and water districts throughout the state have implemented both mandatory and voluntary conservation measures to reduce water use. Gov. Schwarzenegger declared a drought last June and this February declared a state of emergency, citing the third straight year of below-average rainfall and the possibility of future dry years. Local water officials must prepare for the possibility of a prolonged drought.

Thirdly, the desalination project is in no way linked to any expansion of the UC-Santa Cruz campus. The desalination project is being studied for drought protection and to forestall seawater contamination of the aquifers. Any future water demands that result from UCSC growth will require a separate environmental assessment and city council decision. Ratepayers in the Santa Cruz and the Soquel Creek Water District will not be subsidizing the cost of the university's expansion, because the desalination project is not linked to future growth of that institution.

The Soquel Creek Water District and the city of Santa Cruz are committed to conducting their water supply planning and policy matters in a public and transparent fashion and encourage the public to take advantage of the many opportunities to shape that policy. More information is available at: www.scwd2desal.org.

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