In the News

Our water future is here, now

By Donna Meyers
Santa Cruz Sentinel, 2/6/11

In the late 1970s, talk of water shortages were front and center in local politics -- not so different than in today's headlines. Water was the topic of conversation in the 1970s because California experienced the driest two years in the state's history. The severe drought of the 1970s showed Santa Cruz two realities: first, we did not have adequate water storage -- no savings account -- in our system to capture the rain when it came, and second, we needed to identify a way to plan for extended drought and its potential impacts on our community and our natural resources.

In coastal California, a good year of rain starts in early October and continues through late May. Precipitation courtesy of Mother Nature sustains our rivers and streams with both higher surface flows, but also provides for sustained ground saturation so that the next season's rain spends less time saturating the ground and moves into the stream flows faster. This helps maintain our native species, which are adapted to this rain cycle.

City leaders began the work to address the likely reality of another drought in California soon after the 1976-77 drought. This work resulted in the 2003 Integrated Water Management Plan. Twenty-five years seems a long time to study alternatives to creating either a new water supply or more storage and conservation, but concurrent with that analysis, the city began to implement water conservation programs and capital improvements to replace aging water lines to prevent leaks in the system.

Analysis was also needed to understand impacts to threatened species living in the watersheds that provide our water supply. These needs added to the complexity of the issues facing water managers and the difficulty in mapping out an answer to a water supply during drought.

Yet our community has paid on average just $3.60 per unit of clean, safe water to be delivered to our taps. How many of us even know what it costs to produce a clean safe unit of water, according to state and federal laws? Not many.

Will the desalinization plant be our water supply facility -- no. But what will the future bring? More frequent droughts and hotter temperatures are projected. In light of this, I'd rather have more savings in the bank then less and know that we can make it through the tough times and that our native species will not lose out.

Arguments about costs and higher energy use are compelling, but are not what will sway me to acknowledge that we really have never paid the true cost for water in our community and it is time we do understand those costs.

Not finding a water solution for our shortage during drought is taking away the future for the next generation of Santa Cruzans -- something no one should be able to do without the professional expertise and analysis that has been shown in the past couple of decades of effort.

Donna Meyers is a city of Santa Cruz water commissioner.

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