In the News


Let city residents decide on UCSC water

By Leonie Sherman, Special to the Sentinel, 1/25/14

It still hasn't rained. Mid-January and the hills are still brown, the Pajaro River doesn't reach the ocean, and Loch Lomond Reservoir, the source of water for 91,00 people in the city service area, is at 66 percent of capacity. We sit with our heads tipped to the brilliant blue, grasping after any clouds, hoping for looming thunderheads. And the sun continues to shine.

We can't control when it will rain, but we can control what we do with our current limited and dwindling water supply. Ideas like municipal gray water have a new appeal. Critical examination of new building projects is required; we need to slow down development until our water supply catches up with our appetite.

UC Santa Cruz currently receives almost 5 percent of all city water. In 2008, they were promised 320 million gallons of water a year, or 10 percent of the city's total water supply. That's over 2 million showers by your average teenager. If everyone in Santa Cruz used super efficient toilets, that would be the city's total annual flushing budget.

The water is meant to support the construction of two new colleges and the addition of 4,500 new students. UCSC's current student population of 16,750 uses 150 million gallons of water a year, or just under 9,000 gallons per student. So why do 4,500 additional students need 170 million more gallons of water a year?

In 2006, 80 percent of voters approved Measure J, which granted citizens the right to decide on any future expansion of Santa Cruz city water. UC lawyers had the measure thrown out on a technicality. Less than two years after this litigious abuse, then Mayor Ryan Coonerty went ahead and promised UCSC more city water to support their growth. But is now the time for the city to sacrifice so the university can grow?

The EIR for that project was rejected by the appellate court in San Jose, giving the city an opportunity to seriously consider alternatives. But UCSC continues to clamor for campus expansion fueled with city water, and the City Council continues to feel obliged.

At the time of the agreement, a municipal desalination plant seemed like a foregone conclusion. This fantasy of unlimited water supply is crumbling in the face of science and organized critical opposition. Factor in our third year of drought, and the reality of our future water supply looks different than some people dreamed in 2008.

UCSC is a major source of income and improves the quality of our lives here in Santa Cruz. Nobody wants to incite town-gown acrimony. But all of us, students, faculty and citizens, share a common concern for our quality of life.

In the wake of the overwhelming passage of Measure P, the City Council has decided to trust a citizens committee to evaluate water security strategies. Measure P was not just about water or desalination; it was about trust. If the council really wants to rebuild trust, restore democracy and press a reset button, letting the people of Santa Cruz decide about expanding water to UCSC would go a long way towards that goal.

Leonie Sherman is a longtime Santa Cruz resident.

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