In the News

New County Water Policy Gets Nods—Except by Soquel Creek Leaders

District desires boost in new hookup help; Santa Cruz predicts policy won't hold up desalination plant.

By Genevieve Bookwalter
Capitola-Soquel Patch, 2/3/11

Santa Cruz County officials on Wednesday placed new limits on when water districts can expand to serve new development, but leaders with Soquel Creek Water District said they had hoped the rules would better help their efforts to encourage existing homes to switch from well to agency water.

The new policy, passed unanimously by the county’s Local Agency Formation Commission, states that the government body’s “prime objective is to make sure its decisions about water do not lead to negative impacts on natural resources,” said John Leopold, county supervisor and LAFCO member.

The new policy governs decisions on whether to allow a water agency to expand its borders and serve new development.

LAFCO regulates when and where a city or special district can alter its boundaries to serve or include new territory. Its members are appointees by the board of supervisors and each city in the county. It also includes members from two special districts in the county (such as water or fire protection) and one member of the public.

Laura Brown, general manager of Soquel Creek Water District, said Wednesday’s decision seemed aimed at ongoing efforts by Santa Cruz to provide water for UC Santa Cruz expansion and Watsonville’s efforts to annex land and expand its city.

Brown said she had hoped for more support in Soquel Creek Water District's effort to expand and pipe existing homes with agency water for those residents who now tap private wells.

“What we would like to see is a LAFCO policy that would encourage existing development, and we do have some that are on their own wells and at some point would like to come into the district,” Brown said after the meeting.

Some residents tap the same aquifers as the district with their wells, Brown said. But because those wells are private, they are not required to conserve, as the district is during drought or other times, which can become a problem, she said.

"We felt, in general, (LAFCO) could be more specific. They were a little too vague for policy," Brown said.

Brown didn't predict problems following the new rules, because the district rarely expands to serve new development. Soquel Creek Water District serves about 50,000 Mid County customers from Capitola and Soquel to La Selva Beach.

Bill Kocher, head of Santa Cruz Water Department, said despite the new rules, he does not anticipate a threat to the desalination plant that the two water agencies are planning together, as that project would serve existing customers.

As planned, the desalination plant would serve Santa Cruz customers during drought years and help recharge Soquel Creek’s underground aquifers during normal rain years.

Santa Cruz Water Department is the county’s biggest and serves about 90,000 customers from the North Coast to Capitola.

“I suspect some of them (who spoke Wednesday) continue to think there is a nexus between the University expanding into the north campus and desal, and if they can stop the campus expansion, there’s no need for desal, so that’s why they were there,” Kocher said.

“I know that they are wrong about the nexus between desal and the campus, and I know that I can quite easily demonstrate why, so I don’t think in reality this gives the anti-desalination folks any more traction,” Kocher said. 

Most who spoke Wednesday were in favor of the new policy governing expansion of water districts.

“I’m feeling good about government today,” said Rick Longinotti of Santa Cruz, also an opponent of desalination. "We’re overtaken our limits. We’ve passed our limits a long time ago. Your body today is turning that around.”

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