In the News

Soquel Creek Water District Considers Rationing
With desal plant off the table, officials put hopes in conservation

by Steve Palopoli, Santa Cruz Weekly, 1/14/14

 “Back in the late 1990s, how were the water supply options chosen?” Soquel Creek Water District Board president Thomas LaHue asked a crowded house at the Capitola City Hall.

One person said “a public advisory committee,” and—congratulations!— engineering assistant Vaidehi Campbell awarded her a water meter to keep track of their water use in the garden. (A later contestant won a shower timer.) Periodic trivia questions like this one added moments of levity to a tense meeting rife with accusations.

Now that Santa Cruz city leaders have announced they’ll abandon a desalination plant they would have shared with Soquel Creek Water District, mid-county residents are growing even more worried about their already drying wells.

The board re-examined mandatory water rationing at its Jan. 7 meeting, after approving a preliminary plan to study increased conservation last year as a back up to the desal plant.

“If you’re a high water-user, you’re going to have to go lower,” board vice president Bruce Daniels said. “It’s not going to be fun and games.”

Conservation is once again at the center of discussion, and we might call this Santa Cruz Desal Alternatives’ wet dream—if the situation weren’t so dry.

Some people in the audience called for a moratorium to new development and studies into recycled water. A few suggested the possibility of suing neighboring water districts—like the City of Santa Cruz’s—or one of the county’s golf courses for using up shared well water. Others yelled at the board and water staff for not taking action in the 1990s.

Between 1995 and 2010, Soquel Creek Water District reduced its water use from 95 daily gallons per person to 68. That has since climbed up to around 80 gallons per person daily—an increase the board attributes to the economic recovery. It’s still well under the state average. But in order to restore its wells, the board estimates users need to cut their daily usage 35 percent down to a daily 53 gallons each.

The district hasn’t had the best track record for cutting use recently. This past year, the board asked ratepayers to cut water use 15 percent, and they cut back only .5 percent. The previous year, the board asked for a 5 percent decrease and got a 5 percent increase instead.

An upcoming meeting, which will address the possibility of water rationing, falls on April 1. We can’t wait to see how LaHue lightens up that one.

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