In the News

Letters to the Editor: An Unsustainable Condition

By Allan McLean, Scotts Valley

Santa Cruz Weekly, 09/16/2009

I READ with interest the letter about our water resources signed by Bill Kocher and Laura Brown in the Sept. 2 issue of Santa Cruz Weekly. The good news is that we Santa Cruzans (and Soquelians?) use a good deal less water through restrictions and stringent conservation than do our statewide neighbors ("70 gallons per day vs. 130 gallons per day"). For that, congratulations are in order.

What is disturbing to me is that desalinization (desal) is proposed as the best method for gaining sustainability in our water supply, outside of further conservation effort. Further, the letter states flat out that "our local water supplies are not sustainable for the current population and certainly would be inadequate to meet the needs for any modest amount of growth that could occur within each of our water service areas" (italics mine).

It would seem, then, that the only things on the table for achieving water sustainability are desal plus more conservation. If this is true, we are in deep kim chi. In their own words we are currently in an unsustainable condition. To me it seems unconscionable for these agencies to approve a single additional water meter without removing others, or in seeing to it in some other way to prevent additional draw on the resource. No additional load should be allowed.

Yet it is apparent to me that new developments continue to be approved that increase the load on our unsustainable system. To name three; the UCSC expansion, Westside Village and Frederick Street. What services are coming offline to compensate? The current tactic seems to be to increase restrictions on current users so they can offer that water to the new folks. The logic eludes me.

Two points need to be raised: At 70 gallons per day we seem to be close to the limit of saving water while still being able to raise a vegetable or two, and keep a few trees and flowers alive.

Secondly, and more importantly, the desal system we need is years away from being online at the capacity needed to achieve sustainability within our budgetary ability. Desal works fine for special circumstances, i.e., where there are no options and unlimited sunshine (desert islands near the equator), or where power is really cheap (Middle East). For these circumstances the basic desal technology is well developed and in place. But for our use of desal, where power is expensive, environmental impacts are subject to regulation, the sea water is full of critters, and the interface designs are hard to scale up, it is a whole different ballgame.

To design and integrate a desal system of the size we need to achieve a sustainable water supply, the costs are at least an order of magnitude above any current costs for producing a unit of water. This does not seem to bother our two agencies. The letter states that they will make "an evaluation of how effective the two agencies can make this (desalinization plant) a no-net-carbon increase project with energy minimization through innovative design, renewable energy use and energy carbon offsets." So for our money we get yet another evaluation about pie in the sky by yet another consulting firm--big deal!

We need to put other sources back on the table. There are many North Coast sites suitable for storage without reducing the wildlife production of existing stream systems. We need to recharge our aquifers with recycled water and stored surpluses in times of excess. We need to make better second use of wastewater. We certainly need to stop dumping it untreated into the ocean and polluting our main visitor draw.

By the way, why can't UCSC develop and recycle its own water resources? They would not draw from the Soquel or Scotts Valley aquifer and they would have little impact on the San Lorenzo River. They have plenty of room for storage and processing. Just wondering.

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