In the News

Santa Cruz water panel recommends rationing, Loch Lomond to remain closed

By J.M. Brown, Santa Cruz Sentinel, 2/4/14

SANTA CRUZ -- The city's Water Commission has recommended the Santa Cruz City Council approve water rationing of between 15 to 25 percent this spring in response to a drought.

The commission voted unanimously Monday to encourage the council during its Feb. 11 meeting to change the current Stage 1 Water Alert and accompanying 5 percent voluntary cutback to a Stage 3 Water Emergency.

The higher level allows the Water Department to increase measures to save water, including setting consumption budgets for all customers and raising the price of water to cover the department's fixed costs while customers consume less. The city also can fine consumers who exceed their water budgets.

The city wasn't expected to consider rationing or other measures until late March when the water supply outlook was more clear. But Eileen Cross, a spokeswoman for the Water Department, said Monday's move to press action by the council will allow the city to better prepare customers.

"We want to be able to give people what their goals are now and have time to explain and answer questions," Cross said.

Also because of the drought, the city has decided Loch Lomond Recreational Area will remain closed until further notice. Typically, the city opens the area around the Loch Lomond Reservoir March 1 after a winter closure.

Located near Lompico, the reservoir is the city's largest water storage facility and is only about two-thirds full due to the critically dry conditions. Newell Creek, which drains into Loch Lomond, "is at historically low levels," according to a statement from the Water Department.

The city said exposed tree stumps on the reservoir's steep banks could be hazardous to recreational users and a fleet of rental boats. The reservoir's marina won't be able to function if the water level falls an additional 6 feet, the statement said.

Chris Berry, watershed compliance manager, said, "Of even greater concern, is the potential threat of wildfire from the extremely dry fuel conditions in the watershed."

In normal and wet years, the 175-acre reservoir often spills its banks after periods of high rain fall. But with the city receiving just 8 percent of average rainfall this season, the lake is at its lowest point in close to 20 years.

The city may consider reopening the area to boaters, hikers and other users should conditions change.

Visit the city's drought website at www.cityofsantacruz.com/drought

 for updates.

This story will be updated.

Follow Sentinel reporter J.M. Brown at Twitter.com/jmbrownreports

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